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THE SECRET LIVES OF BOOKS/David Kirby ALL LAST SUMMER I went to a local housing project every Wednesday afternoon to read to a group of children. With one or two exceptions, I never met the moms and dads. The children seemed to run the place. Td park my car and start walking toward the ree room with my books, and someone, usually one of the Carter brothers, would shout, "Story Maaaan!" and the children would come running. I'd find a seat, the little ones would pile into my lap, the others would arrange themselves behind me, and we'd start. I was never sure who would show up, so I always brought a variety of books with me, from the simplest picture books to ones that were longer yet could be finished in the hour we had together. They had definite preferences, but basically the children were game for anything —though I preferred the longer books to the shorter. There was never really any such thing as starting on time, so I usually skimmed a couple of picture books until everyone had settled in and then started a longer story. With variations, there was always a rhythm to these sessions. The littlest children popped their thumbs into their mouths and became progressively more glassy-eyed as the afternoon went by. None of them ever went to sleep, to my knowledge; instead, they were in a trance analogous to the one I often find myself in while reading, even if I no longer suck my thumb. The children who came to socialize but who were too old or too rowdy to be read to often gave up after a few minutes and either left voluntarily or, as happened more than once, were shown the door by me. I enjoyed almost all my Wednesdays with the children, though I would have appreciated a little more parental involvement. Besides the discipline problems, my other major frustration was simply finding someone to open the ree room, or "the ree," as the children called it. In August, Tallahassee is nearly unbearable unless its native climate is corrected by air conditioning on a gargantuan scale, and many times we had to sit outside under what shade we could find because the person with the key couldn't be found. But I always called it a good Wednesday as long as Patrick didn't show. Patrick was a couple of months shy of three, hardly old enough to get much from an afternoon of quality literature; he was obviously there to be baby-sat. Unfortunately, Patrick developed a fierce attachThe Missouri Review · 294 ment to me and insisted on sitting in the middle of my lap rather than on the bony outposts of thigh or knee to which he pushed his older but less aggressive rivals. He did not have perfect control of his bodily functions, and more often than not, an acrid odor would fui the air fifteen or twenty minutes into the story. The other children, proud of their own self-discipline, chided him: "Patrick, you have pooped in your pants!" Patrick would counter with the indignation that only a guilty party can summon, and I would have to squander more valuable time restoring the peace. Most of the children were good listeners, by which I mean they were active ones, calling attention to things that excited them or asking what words meant. Two or three always brought snacks, which they shared freely; I sampled some of the grimiest candy I have ever eaten, not to mention various gums, pops, powders and fried snacks flavored with agents not to be found in nature. And usually, some of the fourthgrade girls—the sisters Sophie and Danya, perhaps one or two others—moved around behind me at some point and began to silently braid my hair. I read to the children every Wednesday because I had seen a notice in the paper calling for literacy volunteers. Mainly, though, I was there because I missed reading to my own children, who were now too old for it. I love children's books but have always found that reading them silently and alone is a little like...


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