Book magic revisted

A story of a book.

I was a homeschooled child back when homeschooling was relatively uncommon. There weren’t many other homeschooled kids for me to connect with where we lived. I was an introverted kid in thrift store clothes who didn’t go to school, and in the apartment complex where we lived none of those things were particularly cool.

What I did have, besides books, were penpals. Other homeschooled kids from other places, all of whom wanted to connect with kids like themselves. I didn’t save their letters, and I no longer remember most of their names. Jacques, who drew me a picture of a horse…I remember him. And Aaron. I remember Aaron’s name because there is a book on my shelf whose flyleaf bears this inscription: To Jenny, love Aaron Christmas 1980

The book is The Island of the Grass King, by Nancy Willard. It’s a white hardcover, its edges a little battered but otherwise in good shape for its age. It’s become one of the books I pull out when the kids are sick and I need to settle in for an afternoon of reading some illness away.

The story is of Anatole, whose grandmother has asthma and is in need of a special fennel she once had that eases her breathing better than inhalers. A wish made on a rainbow (and a Sears catalog) sends Anatole on a journey with a talking cat, an animated silver teapot, and a girl made of glass. It’s one of those books that never quite takes you to the places you expect it to–full of magic and surprise, and a bit of The Tempest as well.

It’s also a story that, until recently, no one else I knew had ever read. I’ve mentioned it to so many people, and none of them have ever even heard of it, let alone read it.

Enter Desdemona. (Her name’s not Desdemona, but I think she’d like a code name, so I’ve given her one.) A year or so ago she asked me for recommendations for books to read with her kids. I included The Island of the Grass King on my list, as I usually do. She hadn’t read it, as is always the case.

But Desdemona loves stories, and she has a touching faith in my recommendations. She tracked the book down at a local library and read it and LOVED it. Now she hunts for copies in used book stores just to have them on hand for birthday presents. If The Island of the Grass King suddenly returns to print, I fully expect it will be the result of Desdemona’s devotion.

For me, the magic of that book is in the story, but also in Aaron’s signature in the front, and the memory of what it meant to receive the gift so many years ago. It’s in the times my feverish daughter begged me to keep reading it, and in Desdemona and her quest, and in the thrill of seeing book and reader find each other.

It delights me.

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