Hoofbeats in the Park Place Branch Library
The year is 1962. It’s the summer between first and second grades, and the Houston heat is bearing down on me. My sisters and I are staying with my grandmother in her house on Ithaca Street where there is no air-conditioning.
We are melting.
But only two blocks away is the Park Place Branch Library. My grandmother makes us hold hands as we march down the street. The heat shimmers above the asphalt, an invisible ghost. Sweat drips from my temples and straight into my mouth.
After what seems like the longest march of my life, we walk through the heavy glass doors of the Library and we are saved. The cool air wraps its chilly fingers around us and we shiver.
This is heaven I think. And to make it even more heavenly, there is a display of horse books in the children’s section. And smack in the middle: Black Beauty.
At seven, I was one of those girls who loved horses. My chief dream then was to have my own horse, to ride the range, chase outlaws, win the blue ribbons at the fair. But reality was always pushing against that dream. My family’s small house on the southeast side of Houston was hardly a place for a horse. And even though my heart needed a horse, the rest of me surely didn’t.
The closest I could come was through books. And thankfully the Park Place Branch had plenty of them beginning with Black Beauty.
One of the reasons that I believe we read is allow ourselves the experience of re-overlaying the-world-as-we-know-it on top of the-world-that-is-possible. A great book has that power, to fundamentally change our views. With Black Beauty, I was one person at the beginning of the book, and another at the end.
In the pages of Black Beauty, I was no longer a small girl with a dream. I was fully-fledged participant in a world that was bigger than me. In the aisles of the Park Place Public Library, I became a better citizen. I learned how to let my heart break over the horrible treatment of Ginger, and also how to stand firm in the face of cruelty. I learned that love doesn’t end during long periods of time apart, something that held me in good stead when my father left our family for months on end.
I’ve read Black Beauty twenty times at least, and each time I do I find something new to appreciate about it. But oh how I wish I could read it for the first time again. I would do it the same way I did when I was seven, curl up in the aisles of the Park Place Public Library with only the white noise of the air conditioning on a hot summer day in my ears. I would be that dreamy girl again, with her own black horse, galloping between the pages. I would.
Photo Credit: Ken Appelt
Thanks for sharing your story Kathi! I still have young girls come in and curl up in the library to read Black Beauty! I love that books can grab you at a young age and never let you go and Kathi Appelt is doing her part to give kids books they'll want to read over and over!
Be sure to check out Kathi's website. And for the librarians who subscribe to School Library Journal's SLJTeen Newsletter, Kathi Appelt's latest novel, Keeper will be highlighted this week with a special giveaway for librarians!
Kathi will be visiting The Brain Lair next, so be sure to stop by!