Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Home Run" Books

Yesterday I attended a workshop by Peggy Sharp on "What's New in Children's Literature, 2009." From the thousands of children's books published each year, Peggy selects twenty five of the best and lists them on her web site. At her workshop she discusses and shows these and many others, gives lots of ideas for "selling" the books to kids, links them to school curriculums, and provides a list of her "top ten" books for the year. She is a lively presenter and provides valuable information, so I was happy that my school sent me for the third year in a row.

One of Peggy's ideas that excited me was to ask students to tell the name of a book that really hit home with them. Peggy calls these "home run" books and suggested that the baseball tie-in would be great at the end of the school year, when libraries are promoting their summer reading programs. She also asked each of us which book we remember from our childhood as a "home run" book. I immediately thought of Sal Fisher at Girl Scout Camp by Lillian Gardner. Initially I was a bit embarrassed by this choice; I mean, this is not a great classic. But as I remembered the story, I realized why it hit home with me.

As the story opens, Sal is packing up to spend four weeks at Girl Scout camp. She's excited, but nervous. She's taking a big bag of books and her stuffed monkey, but she's still worried that she'll be homesick. And she is. Her older sister is a return camper and occasionally pops up to offer some help or advice, but she's usually off doing her thing and Sal is on her own for the first time in her life. As the back cover blurb promises, there's fun, problems, and surprises. I identified with Sal, was captivated by the problems she faced, intrigued by the wide variety of girls and women she met at camp, and envious of her adventures.

I still have my old copy of this book. I think it's the last one to survive, the others having been lost in my many moves or to the ravages of time. As I fetched it up to look at it again, I was quite charmed to see my handwritten name on the title page, along with the date, 1963. I was twelve when I read Sal's story. All these years later, I still identify with her and I hope that I've gained some of her courage, good humor, and determination.

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