When I was about eight years old, I fell in love with a children’s biography about a girl named Lotta Crabtree.
Who? I know, I know. I can hear you asking that question, and I don’t blame you. Lotta Crabtree was a young girl who became famous in the 1850s for dancing for miners in mining camps in California. She later went on to become a professional dancer and actress who toured around the country, before retiring at age 45.
As a child, I also loved reading biographies of more famous women, notably Amelia Earhart, Dolly Madison, Jane Addams and Eleanor Roosevelt. I even liked the book about Virginia Dare, even though the vague ending made me uneasy. (It still does, actually.)
But for some reason, the Lotta Crabtree book was my favorite. Maybe I identified with a little girl who loved to dance? Whose family struggled for money? Who knows. I do remember that I especially loved the detailed descriptions of her embroidered dancing costumes, scarlet satin dancing slippers and shimmery green velvet shoes. They sounded so beautiful, so glamorous for a little girl, especially in comparison to the dingy white Keds and striped HealthTex shorts that I wore in the days when I was so obsessed with the book.
The only trouble with that book was that there was only copy in the collection of all the libraries in the greater Birmingham area. My mother may have not understood why I was so devoted to that particular book, but she understood that I was devoted to a book. Every so often, she’d gamely drive me over to Homewood, across town, so I could borrow the Lotta Crabtree book again and reread it until it was due back two weeks later. Usually we left the library with a stack of other books, too. When I finished the Lotta Crabtree book, I’d read about someone else.
Now that I am a parent, I understand that parents want to do whatever it takes to encourage their children to learn. Driving a few extra miles to check out a library book really isn’t a big deal in the greater scheme of things, my mother surely recognized, and it had the effect of encouraging me to read. My five-year-old son is learning to read right now. Would the book about mummies that he chose a few weeks ago be at the top of my list for “must read” books for a five-year-old? Absolutely not. Did I willingly check it out for him? You bet. Anything to keep him interested in learning.
In fact, we checked out a massive illustrated book about Ancient China this morning for the same reason. William can’t read it himself yet, but he’s more than happy to sit next to me while I read it to him. And he asks lots and lots and lots of questions.
I’m sure that some parents might think it’s weird to discuss tombs of ancient Eastern warriors with their kindergarteners. Maybe it is. I’m still going to do it. Because it also gives us the chance to talk about what “B.C.” means and what we can learn from ancient artifacts that have been preserved and what that civilization might have been like. It gives us the chance to talk and to learn together. And maybe one day, my son will say, “Thanks, Mom, for letting me check out all those random books when I was a kid.”
Thanks, Mom, for letting me check out all those random books when I was a kid.