The Traveling Bookmobile by Kathy Pardell
Recently during our monthly book club, a friend had mentioned that she was reading The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, about the queen’s visits to her local Bookmobile. This instantly triggered one of my own memories from my childhood; the recollection of Saturdays spent as a young teenager. While other girls my age were hanging out with boyfriends, shopping or sleeping off the previous night’s frivolities, I was likely selecting my next new treasure, a glorious new book from the traveling Bookmobile that dropped by our neighborhood every two weeks.
In those days, libraries were a permanent fixture in the city; certainly I had read many a book from my local school library, but the selection was limited and the Bookmobile was an attractive alternative. Every couple of weeks during the summer months, the bus would arrive down the street between designated hours and my girlfriend and I would be there waiting. A frisson of excitement would undoubtedly lead me to leap onto the bus and produce my library card- a shoddy piece of crumpled card stock that I would shove at the “librarian” as I made my way down the central aisle towards the young adult section. I had a system. I wouldn’t select straight away, rather I relished in the hour provided, rifling through “new additions” and popular text. Even then I was an eclectic reader, choosing historical fiction as easily as animal stories and biographies. I remember a few of my choices from that time; a biography on Charlton Heston, a favorite actor of mine. I recall being fascinated that he had adopted a daughter born in the same year as I and to this day I remember his children’s names, the university he attended ( Northwestern) and how during a scene in The Ten Commandments, his own infant son played the part of baby Moses. Other titles included Misty of Chincoteague and the follow-ups, Sea Star and Brighty.
Sometimes I would panic when the bus driver started up the bus, ready to make his way to the next neighborhood location. If I wasn’t ready with my fifth book, I would grab anything off the shelf and frantically sign it out, not wanting to delay the Bookmobile from its due course. This was sometimes the best pick of all, an unexpected surprise. Once home, I marked the calendar for the next Bookmobile visit and got started on my summer reading.
The Bookmobile was my introduction to the secret life of a reader. Though I was often seen in the school library perusing Baba Yaga and Russian Folk Tales or The Phantom Tollbooth, both considered age appropriate and proper for a Catholic school girl, the Bookmobile provided a private forum for choosing any book I wanted. No teacher would ever know. More importantly, no parent would ever know. I would only have to get past the driver/librarian and then spend hours at the park reading my secret stash of young romance novels, along with more serious picks as in Go Ask Alice and Helter Skelter. Thankfully, I could stash these “questionable” selections in my closet without being discovered and then back to the Bookmobile they would go. Needless to say, my scope of the world widened tremendously this way and therefore my knowledge of relationships and the darker side of adolescence along with it.
The Bookmobile days were numbered of course. Perhaps funding became an issue, or interest waned or the Bookmobile ran into a political wall of its own but from time to time, I am pleasantly reminded of those years waiting for the traveling library of treasures and I wish most ardently that it would drive down my street today, so that I could share that wonderful memory from my childhood. Until that day, I guess can take comfort in knowing that the queen and I share the love of the traveling Bookmobile!
Kathy Pardell is a Literacy Supervisor with Grande Prairie Catholic School District in Alberta Canada. She has worked as a sessional literacy instructor for the University of Alberta and works in the school improvement branch leading teachers in professional development. You can connect with her through at @Kpardell or visit www.thereadingnotebook.com