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Books for Mikey: A Place to Be Somebody

He won’t read it.  He hates everything. #5

By David TeagueThe Children’s Book Review
Published: September 12, 2012

School has started.  Great news for some kids (a rare and exotic variety), bad news for some (more common), and mixed news for most.

Anyway, now that school rolling again, I drive the carpool van, and the other day, I ended up detouring past one of my city’s little wooden welcome signs, which proclaim our civic motto:  “Wecome to W–.  A Place to Be Somebody.”

This is admittedly a bit forlorn.  You can come live here and be “Somebody.”  The City People don’t specify who.  They don’t say “Anybody You Want to Be!”  Or “Somebody Great!”  Or “A Success!”  Or even “Somebody Your Mom Won’t Be Completely Mortified By!”  Just—“Somebody.”

Anyway, I’ve been driving past that sign for over seventeen years now, and it always seemed to ring a bell, but I never figured out why until the other day.

When I was in elementary school, one of my teachers put a carpet remnant in the corner of her room, pushed bookshelves into a square around it, and put a sign up over the cubicle she’d created.  The sign said, I have finally managed to recall, prompted by that road sign, “Come In And Be Somebody.”

The rule was, we were allowed to go in there any time of the day, for as long as we wanted, as long as we came to read a book.

Which brings me to what the city slogan of W—doesn’t say:  “Nobody.”  Maybe because ee cummings already took that one?

But in school, during the first few weeks, after the transcendental freedom of summer is over and fractions, history, earth science, and fractions are staring you in the face, lined up like phalanxes of enemy soldiers all the way to next June, it’s easy to feel like Nobody.  School just does that to you sometimes.

So many, many readers went to that Place and became “Somebody.”  I think there was even a list of candidates, the major literary players who were still big in 1974:  Ramona, Henry Huggins, Homer Price, Bartholomew Cubbins to name a few.

It was a negotiation.  Sides had to sacrifice.  My teacher’s fraction worksheets went undone, and maybe a layer or two of the atmosphere went unexplored.  But those of us who read ten books a week sat side by side with people who would, ordinarily, read one a year, and were all Somebody together.  I remember that we had to put in more shelves to make the cubicle bigger pretty soon after the Place opened.

So this post isn’t about a book or a series of books.  It’s about making a place to be, well, Somebody:  Alex Rider, Otto Malpense, Jack Gantos, Jasper Dash, you name it.  And I humbly submit that the Place should work just as well at home, on similar terms, as it did at my old school.

David Teague is the author of Franklin’s Big Dreams (Disney/Hyperion).  He’s currently at work on his next picture book, Billy Hightower, forthcoming in 2013, and is collaborating with his wife, the novelist Marisa de los Santos, on a young adult novel, Margaret O’Malley.  For more about David and his books, visit http://www.davidteague.net/ or https://www.facebook.com/FranklinDreams.

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