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Got questions? Try a librarian.

By Rebekah Denn / August 17, 2009



[Rebekah Denn is a guest blogger. The Monitor occasionally invites guest bloggers to share their points of view.] My son broke his arm Thursday, and after our initial panic it was hard not to grouse about how much fun this will spoil for him.

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The orthopedist suggests canceling his birthday party, planned for a place called Jump Planet, seeing as he’s not allowed to jump. Our long-awaited beach vacation sounds less fun with a cast that can’t get wet or sandy, and an off-limits playground.

It brought my mind to a book I read as a child, one I haven’t thought of for years, where the protagonist’s summer is ruined by a broken arm... a bait-and-switch of a plot that leads us into much deeper waters, when he later learns his mother is dying of cancer. I still remember reading about how terribly the boy’s cast itched his arm, and how his father wrote him a note for school, “Be kind to [him]. His mother died today.”

I am quite a healthy mom, but I am aware of all the things we have so luckily escaped in my son’s not-quite-seven years of life. For all today’s grumbling, I try to see the glass half-full. But I was still so nagged by that faraway book memory, where I could almost see the book’s jacket – was it plain, with an outline of a baseball player at bat? – but couldn’t remember the title, author, or character’s name.

I called in the big guns, asking “Book Lust” author and Seattle uber-librarian Nancy Pearl if the book rang any bells in her encyclopedic mental library.  She referred me to a completely delightful resource, an online site (loganberrybooks.com) where readers try to match books with titles based on similarly vague, fragmented memories.  And then, before I could even enter my posting there, I got a reply from Laurie Amster-Burton, a Seattle Public Schools librarian who loves a surprising number of the same children’s books I do. She didn’t know this one herself, and the inquiries she sent to librarian friends came up blank, but she managed to sleuth it out online. She sent me a message yesterday that the book is “There Are Two Kinds of Terrible,” by Peggy Mann, published in 1977. The protagonist’s name is Robbie.

It’s too grim a story for my son, but I’m going to track down an out-of-print copy for myself to read through again. Maybe I can find it at the library, a safe, dry, and quiet place where I suspect my son and I will be spending a lot of time this next few weeks. And, because I remain as convinced as I was in my own childhood that librarians can find an answer to any question, I may ask them for advice on what a 6-year-old with a broken arm might like to read.

Rebekah Denn writes at www.eatallaboutit.com.

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