It is impossible to form a perfect circle, so the children position themselves in a lopsided one around Mrs. Beasley, the soon-to-be retired librarian. She loves her job and all the library patrons, the children who come for story hour, the high school misfits who take refuge in the library during lunch hour, the unhoused who drift in for warmth and a cushioned seat. But she is getting on in years and it is time to enlist someone who is younger and has more energy. That someone is Diana, who has just completed her degree in Information and Library Science.
Mrs. Beasley hopes that Diana will move from the observation phase to the active participation phase of her training, but so far, she is disinclined to do so.
“Why don’t you try your hand at story time with the kids?” coaxed Mrs. Beasley.
“I’d rather see how you do it first,” replies Diana.
Mrs. Beasley marks her disappointment with a sigh and offers a few tips. “Well, I usually try to get the children seated and quiet and if you can do that, it’s half the battle,” explains Mrs. Beasley. “Then I try to do some kind of icebreaker with them so they can get it out of their systems, and are prepared to listen to the story. But I always start with the same reminder.”
“It’s so nice to see everyone! Before we start, what should we do?”
In unison, the children say, “Respect the books. Respect each other.”
“Perfect,” responds Mrs. Beasley. “Now we can begin. Last week we read one of the Magic Tree House books. Who remembers what it was about?” Dylan’s hand shoots straight up, untucking his shirt in the process.
“Yes Dylan. What was the book about?”
“It was about mommies.”
“Not mommies. Mummies,” corrects Mark.
“Okay, what can you tell me about Mummies?”
Several of the boys snigger before Jeremy says, “Before the mummies are wrapped in bandages, they remove their brains through their nose with a giant hook.” Jeremy emphasizes the word giant.
“I want to be mummified,” cries out Dylan, causing the older boys to collapse in laughter.
“Well today we’re going to be reading about other fascinating things in Egypt. Now just for a minute, I want you to close your eyes and imagine you are in Egypt. What kinds of things can you see?
“Those are all great answers,” Mrs. Beasley is saying but before she can continue Jason Miller bursts into the library holding a box turtle.
“Look what I found by the creek!” The turtle, as if taking a curtain call, pulls his head out of his shell and rotates it as if to take in all the children.
“I want to hold him,” says Dylan.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Not so fast. Before anybody holds the turtle, let’s find out about this little guy,” says Mrs. Beasley and whisks the children over to the computer to search for reference books about the turtle.
At the end of story time, the children know all about how to feed and care for Jason’s turtle. They understand the importance of washing their hands to avoid contracting salmonella. They learn how the turtle lays eggs and how long it will take for them to hatch. A few express their sadness about how few will survive.
They have also found an empty book carton and place the turtle in his new home, and although twenty pairs of eyes stare down at the turtle, it is no longer waved around like a softball trophy. The children have voted on a name for the turtle in an impromptu election, which has taught them about democracy. His name is Jasper.
Cleaning up afterwards, Diana remarks, “Storytime kind of got derailed by the turtle, huh?”
“Derailed? Oh, not really. I think everyone learned some important lessons.”
“But there wasn’t any time left to read.”
“Today’s lesson was about learning how to use the catalog system to find the information they need. It was about not endangering animals and keeping them safe. It was about pulling together as a community. Reading is just the vehicle for all that, and today we didn’t need it.”
“What was that you have the children say?”
“Oh, we always begin and end in the same way. ‘Respect the books. Respect each other.’ I figure they can’t hear it enough. I started having them say this a few years ago, and ever since, we get a lot fewer books back with stains and spills and torn pages.”
“And the ‘respect each other’ part?”
“A way to teach them to listen when others are speaking. That everyone’s opinion matters. That everyone should be heard.”
* * *
Mrs. Beasley begins setting up the room for the teen storytelling hour when she spots Jo-Ellen at the circulation desk.
“Could you help Jo-Ellen check out her books please?”
When Diana informs Jo-Ellen that there is a four-book limit, Mrs. Beasley intervenes just in time to save a crestfallen Jo-Ellen.
“Not for Jo-Ellen. She can check-out as many as she wants.” As Jo-Ellen scoops up her books, Mrs. Beasley shoots her a wink and a smile.
It’s five thirty and the teens are pouring into the library.
“I’m surprised so many teens are interested in story time.”
“Oh, it’s good fun. They read the chapters at home and then they act them out at story time. Not everyone is into sports, you know. So, this gives them an alternative. A group they can belong to.”
The teens position themselves in a circle around Mrs. Beasley, some sitting on the floor and some laying on cushions.
“Okay before we begin…”
“Respect the books. Respect each other,” they chant.
Years have passed since Mrs. Beasley’s retirement but story time lives on. The town does not stand still, although some would probably like it to.
The board members sit around a rectangular table with their coffee containers and printed materials. They are discussing which books should be banned from the library. The discussion becomes heated, voices are raised and coffee is spilled. A newspaper is used to mop it up. The meeting ends on an acrimonious note, without any decisions being made.
Jo-Ellen loops her arm around her partner’s as she shows her around her hometown. It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving and a lot of her old friends are back in town, although many of them have never left.
“This is the library,” she says as she stops momentarily to take in the building. “Mrs. Beasley, the librarian, noticed I had checked out all of the LGBTQ books they had, and discretely ordered more from the other libraries for me.”
“We never discussed it. She just knew. She knew before I had figured anything out.”
“The books were your support growing up?”
“That and Mrs. Beasley. She really fostered a sense of community. You wouldn’t dare disrespect anyone in her presence and I think it had a real trickle-down effect. No one cared if anyone was different. That probably save my life. And a lot of others too.”
“She sounds like your guardian angel.”
Jo-Ellen inhales deeply, raising her shoulders, as if disbelieving what she has heard could possibly be true in her hometown. “And now, books are disappearing off the shelves. And not just any books. Books where black people are featured or gays. It worries me. Books were such a solace to me.”
Regrouping, Jo-Ellen tries for a smile and pulls the door open “Come on, let’s go inside.”
« Jo-El-el-el-en! » says a delighted Dylan when he sees her.
“Look at you!” she replies. “What’s going on here?” Jo-Ellen thinks the rumors of book banning will be easier to hear from Dylan, whom she has known forever.
“Well, no decision has been made, but books have been disappearing from the shelves. Every time that happens, we bring in more books and just re-stock the shelves.”
“Yeah, like three times more,” says Jason who joins them.
“Hey come you two. I want to show you something. We’re almost done,” says Jason as he leads them into the main reading room. On the wall, in enormous black letters, are the words, “Respect the books. Respect each other.” And seated in a circle, ready to begin story time for a new group of children, was Mrs. Beasley.
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Another powerful and moving story from you Wally. I have to second everything Terry said. Libraries are a very special place for communities and within them are micro communities, but those can only be special with people like Mrs. Beasley. There has been a theme going around, at least as in response to this particular prompt, and that is even one person can make a huge, everlasting difference in a person's life, and in this story you demonstrated that well with Mrs. Beasley and Jo-Ellen. Wonderful!
Thanks for reading Anne Marie. I agree about Terry's comments-they're always insightful.
This is a beautiful story. The message evokes a lot of things. The first is that an internal world can always be created within a library, but there has to be someone who keeps it together. This is Mrs. Beasley. There are a lot of Mrs. Beasleys in the world, although fewer than there used to be; they're disappearing and being replaced with board members and PACs and things that dehumanize the reading experience. There's a point where the MC talks about books being a vehicle for community, which is right but more than that, I think books are ...
Your comment captures the essence of what I was trying to say so much better than I have said it in my story. The phrase 'Books are humanity in print' gives me goosebumps. I grew up in a family and community where books are sacred so the idea that they are being censored and removed from libraries and schools horrifies me to my very core.
I love it, Wally. What a fantastic person Mrs Beasley is. She inspired all those children and showed them how to respect the books and each other. It’s heartwarming to think that such a person can positively change the course of someone’s life for ever. The younger librarian may have been somewhat daunted by such a formidable character. She’d be a hard act to follow, for sure. Felt happy reading it.
This story brought me some memories from "shopping" for story times with my first born...not all libraries and librarians/story time leaders are the same! Loved Mrs. Beasley and all she instills with her mantra- and loved the 'derailment' that wasn't, and the rule about number of books that got stretched for Jo-Ellen. You showed so much of Mrs. B's impact here through her understanding and providing a foundation where needed- clarified by the present day visit of an older Jo. I did wonder what happened to Diana, perhaps in a longer story,...
I'd like to imagine the meeting ended acrimoniously and with no decision being made, because it was being sabotaged. I'd like to believe that. It's probably not true, but it's a nice fantasy. That said, the story is one of resilience. They refuse to let book theft deter them, they learned personal resilience, and they forged strong bonds. Mrs. Beasley is a pillar of this community, and her influence shows. Critique-wise, I'm a little ambivalent about Diana. She seemed to be an important character but then she kind of vanishes. I was actual...
This story was a pleasure to read. Thank you, for writing it. It made me wish that I'd been part of such a library as a child--and that I knew a Mrs Beasley.
Bravo! Lots of of adults could stand to learn a thing or two from Mrs. Beasley.
Couldn't agree with you more Sean! Check out Cassie in The Cancer Patient if you want to read about someone that could use the wisdom of a Mrs Beasley
This was incredible, Wally! You write extremely well... My favorite line had to be "the unhoused who drift in for warmth and a cushioned seat." It was very poetic and flowed very nicely. I loved your themes of accepting everyone. This is something which is extremely important and is being pushed for in our society today, but you also raised the issue that there are many people who would take away rights and respect from those that they deem 'too different' from themselves. One possible suggestion would be to give descriptions of Mrs. Beasly...
Thanks Starry Skies for reading, but especially for your comments. My goal is to get stronger as a writer and I would much rather have someone tear my work apart than not offer any constructive criticism. So your comments about Mrs Beasley are much valued. I agree I should have shown how much time passed and I probably should have developed the ending more. I usually go with the 'less is more' ending so the reader can fill in the blanks however they wish. (I got some interesting results with the King's View with that one, but that's a topic ...
I totally agree with you, not TMI at all, thank you for sharing! I know what you mean about the "less is more" ending, and I agree that it is sometimes good to lead the ending up to the reader. Some of my favorite books include an ending like that, which I like to call an ambiguous ending, and I think it can be a great way to wrap up the story. I think that you inserted that well into your stories and made it work, which is a good quality to have in a writer.
You were so kind to have read a bunch of my stories, Wally, so I absolutely wanted to return the favor. And I'm very glad I did. I love how you structured this piece. Showing so much of Mrs. Beasley's presence at the beginning and the effect she has on the young readers was the perfect parallel for the end, when we witness a firsthand account of Mrs. Beasley's virtue through Jo-Ellen's experience. The whole time I was waiting for that kind of POV shift (thought it'd be Diana whose perspective we'd hear, but Jo-Ellen was the correct, stronge...
If there’s one thing that comes through here it’s the magic of the library . Remember it so well. A refuge for so many kids. Thank you for a great trip back Wally. Wonderful little gem.
Thanks for reading! It means a lot from a writer I respect so much.
This was cool! A story about respect and love taking place in a library. :)
Seems like the perfect setting for those things. Thanks for reading David!
Amazing story, Mrs. Beasley's character was awesome. I really liked the way you showed her impact on the community through someone new to it, Diana, but also through the time skip. Great story!
Glad you like it Benjamin. Mrs. Beasley felt very retro to me, which made me rather sad. Hoping there are still a few Mrs. Beasley's out there!
I worked in a library for years, so obviously I am a huge pain of this beautiful depiction of the work librarians do. To me, books are the gateway for developing empathy as they welcome us into understanding other people who are not necessarily like us. So using the librarian for this story of acceptance is perfect.
I agree Laurel-no one can overstate the importance of the role Librarians, books, and empathy play in making the world a better place. Thanks for reading. After having written The Cancer Patient, I felt like I needed a MC and setting that was more uplifting. Check it out, when you have time, and let me know what you think.
A really nice read Wally, obviously the two of us are enamoured of libraries, the love of reading and storytelling make for some half-decent writers as grown-ups! All kids should have a Mrs. Beasley in their life no matter where they end up. Great job.
A wonderful story with a powerful message!
Thank you Rodica! Check out some of my other stories and let me know what you think.
Aww, I love Mrs. Beasly! And I could 100% relate to Jo-Ellen, checking out piles of books from the library. I feel like librarians are so important to teens and children, especially introverted/shy people who need a little help feeling at home. I moved round a lot so libraries were always a haven for me and I love how you reflect that sense of home in Mrs. Beasly's library.
Sophia, thank you so much for reading and commenting. I actually had a segment in the story where a child who has just moved to the town, comes into the library and she spends some time getting to know him so she can send him off with the perfect books for him, as well as, one about being the new kid in town. Now I regret cutting that scene. But my editor (my Mom) said 'no' so it had to go. Hope you'll read my other stories. I know I plan to read more of yours.
There was one more thing... The rules. Librarians are notorious sticklers, so the idea there was a coterie of students who share a genuine love of books which she and Jo-Ellen are a part of – who get to check out more books – is extremely important to the distinction between those who understand what books are for and those who do not. It was a nice touch, which I failed to mention in my initial comment. As a "member" of said "club" myself, I found this tidbit nostalgic.
I love this. As an educator, the message that your impact can have an effect on children for years to come rings true. Thank you for capturing this idea in your story!
Librarians and educators don't get enough love, but as you point out, their effect on children can be enormous.