The Bookshelf by Michele Weber Hurwitz
After a long summer at home, my son is back at college. He’s a junior now, an upperclassman, but the goodbyes haven’t gotten any easier. At least for me. He’s attending the University of Iowa, the only college he wanted to go to, the only college he applied to, and luckily, the college he was accepted to. Unlike many high school seniors, the choice was an easy one for Sam — his dad, grandfather, and two uncles were Hawkeyes. Sam’s easy-going, middle child thought process was this: why mess with tradition? It worked for them, it’ll work for me.
Two years ago when he left, a wide-eyed freshman, I worried about small things — he’d never really done an actual load of laundry, didn’t know his roommate, and had a knack for losing his possessions. Then there was the big worry: like many 18-year olds, he had no idea what he wanted to do in life. But I was comforted by the fact that Sam has always had an inner yearning to learn about subjects that interest him. And there have been many: coins, constellations, basketball, the Beatles — to name a few.
Before he left for his freshman year, he asked me to help him go through the stuff in his room. His bookshelf was crammed with many favorites he had hung onto since his days in elementary and middle school. That day, while we pulled down the books, I made silent wishes for my son as he was about to leave the protection, familiarity, and security of the home he had known his whole life.
I wished that he would stay close with his sisters and hold on to his curiosity and thirst for knowledge, like Jack and Annie in The Magic Tree House series, those beloved books that he devoured throughout second grade. Sam and his sisters used to act out the stories, going on adventures that took them from their bedrooms all the way downstairs to the family room, through the kitchen and back upstairs. Stuck among his pile of books was the pad of paper where they started writing their own version — Monkeys on Monday. They were determined to finish it and send it off to Mary Pope Osborne. (They didn’t, although I’m sure Ms. Osborne would have loved it.)
I wished that Sam would cling to his imagination for a while longer, before the weight and seriousness of adulthood forces it away. Like the main character Joe Stoshack in Dan Gutman’s baseball adventure books, there was a point when Sam believed a boy could time travel just by holding a baseball card in his hand.
I wished that he would be brave and determined, like Harry Potter, as he faces the many obstacles that will be sure to block his path. He won’t have a wand, just his intelligence and heart. I wished that he always finds humor in life’s trying situations, like Louis Sachar’s Marvin Redpost, and holds tight to his passions, always continuing to seek out what makes him happy, like the character in one of our favorite picture books of all time, Shy Charles by Rosemary Wells.
And I wished that he would fight for what he believes in, and fight for those who can’t, like Annemarie in Number the Stars, and many other heroes in these books he read, who triumphed over enemies real and imagined.
When the bookshelf was nearly empty, only a few favorites still remaining, I asked Sam if he was sad to pass most of the books along to our local library. He said no, not at all, because the stories were “in my brain.”
In his brain. Wow.
For the past two years, I watched as Sam settled into college life, found new friends, survived tough classes, and then, after considering several options, finally chose a major. It came as no surprise that his choice was elementary education.
And so I’ve begun to fill his sparse bookshelf once again. With new favorites that he will read not as a child, but as a teacher. I’m eagerly anticipating the day when I can help Sam — or Mr. Hurwitz — move these books to shelves in his classroom, so their stories can stay in the brains of his young students.
Michele Weber Hurwitz still has her worn childhood copy of Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott, which she read countless times. She’s the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold. Visit her at micheleweberhurwitz.com and on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz.