COLUMBIA — The skinny, young girl with the curly black hair proceeds carefully but confidently toward the checkout counter at the Columbia Public Library.
Her arms overflow with a heavy-looking heap of hardbacks, and her fingers grasp an oversize paperback that dangles almost to the floor. She appears to be alone.
The girl can barely see over the counter. But she stacks her books on top of it, then rearranges them into a neat pile. The library worker seems unsure what to do. A person in line behind the girl moves toward the counter when, around the corner, here comes Mom.
“What happened to my other books?” the girl asks.
“They’re in my backpack,” her mother says, struggling with her own heavy load.
Eighteen books in all. Enough reading for about two weeks of bedtime stories. Then they’ll be back.
The library contains all kinds of books and all kinds of patrons. But on any given day, you'll likely find mothers and their kids. And just like the books they select, they all have different stories to tell.
The spindly girl with the big stack of books? Her name is Rehanna Jones and she’s 7 years old. Her mom is D Simmons “and she’s 44!” Rehanna says.
D comes to the library to check out books for Rehanna but also for reasons of her own. On this recent Saturday afternoon she used the public computers to work on her taxes and fill out job applications. She also likes reading the print newspapers the library has on hand.
D and Rehanna usually read together at bedtime. D sees it as a good way to get Rehanna – as bouncy as an uncoiled spring when not carrying close to her own weight in books – to wind down.
“I’ll be like this: Book’s done!” Rehanna says, slumping back in her chair theatrically, pretending to fall asleep.
Plus, D, who is raising Rehanna and a 16-year-old son, Kevin, on her own, sees reading as a way that all parents can teach their kids important lessons about life.
“By reading they ask questions, and questions lead to better understanding,” D says.
The family moved to Columbia from Sikeston about a year ago, after D heard about a job as a private duty nurse. She's now looking for new opportunities.
Rehanna says she wishes they’d stayed in Sikeston. She misses her friends. Maybe that has something to do with Rehanna’s choice of favorite books, Mo Willems’s "Elephant and Piggie" books. Rehanna says she likes them because the main characters “learn how to be stronger friends together.”
D's mom never learned to read very well. She grew up in rural Mississippi where her family didn’t have enough money to buy shoes much less books. But Rehanna, who is wearing a Showstopper 35th Anniversary Dance Championship T-shirt, reads with ease and is more than happy to demonstrate.
Here's a passage from the "Elephant and Piggie" book “Today I Will Fly!,” enthusiastically read by Rehanna Jones:
“Today I will fly!”
“No. You will not fly today.
You will not fly tomorrow.
You will not fly next week.
You will never fly!”
“I will try.”
Hand-me-down love for books
Alicia Struckhoff and her daughter Charlotte have come to the library for a very specific reason. They recently found out their family dog, a 15-year-old heeler named Nemo, has arthritis.
Charlotte, a second-grader, has known the dog her whole life. She told her mom she wanted to find a book with information in it that could help Nemo now that he’s sick and can’t get around like he used to.
Charlotte thinks they should maybe build him a ramp. She clutches a hardback called “The Senior Dog” in her hands.
Alicia and her husband, Matthew, started reading to Charlotte when she was 6 months old. Dr. Seuss, that sort of thing. Alicia remembers Charlotte especially liking “Go, Dog. Go!” There have been many more books since then, many of them old favorites of Alicia’s.
“For me, it’s fun to get her excited about the books I liked as a kid,” she says.
Charlotte really enjoyed Shel Silverstein’s “A Light in the Attic.” She read the copy that had belonged to Alicia when she was a little girl.
She didn’t care much for “Black Beauty.” Charlotte isn’t as into horses as Alicia was at her age.
The “Little House on the Prairie” books didn’t go over so well either.
“There’s a scary owl,” Charlotte says by way of explanation.
Alicia, 39, says that her own mom wasn’t a big reader growing up. She used to tell Alicia, who was a bookworm, that she needed to spend more time outside. So Alicia would just take a book and go sit under a tree and read it.
Alicia hopes that reading will do for Charlotte what it’s done for her: give her a sense of adventure, and let her see that there’s a big world out there to explore.
Perhaps it will do that some day. Maybe Charlotte will grow up to be a globe-trotting lover of all kinds of literature. Today, though, there’s just that one book and one place to be. Back home with Nemo.
Sharing a world
Sally Marble stands with "Giants in the Earth." Her mother would often read to her as a child, usually while she ate her dinner. "I was a slow eater," Marble said. "Reading makes you rich. You're privy to all kinds of worlds, other people and other cultures." | Sarah Rothberg/Missourian
When Sally Marble, 64, thinks back on her childhood relationship with reading she thinks about pie. She grew up an only child in Cape Girardeau, where her mom was a public high school teacher.
At night, over dinner, her mom would read aloud to Sally from some of the great classics of literature. Sally remembers eating as slowly as she could to squeeze as much of “David Copperfield” as possible into a single meal.
The pie was her favorite part of dinner. Each week her mom would make a pie and Sally would eat one slice a night until it was gone. She would linger longest over the lemon meringue pie.
As an only child, Sally spent a lot of time trying to guess what other people were thinking. Books gave her a way to get outside of herself and into the minds and lives of others.
Sally’s two children, Laura and Andy, are long-since grown. She read to them a lot when they were children. She felt especially close to them during those moments. When you read to a child you’re “both sharing a world at the same time; both thinking the same thing at the same time,” Sally says.
Sally’s mother now lives in Fayette. The two women often recommend books to each other. Ken Follett is a favorite; they’ve read “The Pillars of the Earth” and many more. It’s a gift they give each other while being in different places but still sharing the same world.