This post originally appeared on the Engage/Teacher to Teacher blog in October 2011.
October has always had a certain charged
energy for me. It’s a month of change and of hidden things. In a New England October, change is right in your face; we vault from shorts weather and a vivid re-greening after August’s heat to a riot of colored leaves, and from there to bare branches poking at a gray sky.
The beginning of October is summer; the end is nearly winter. It’s a condensed soup of seasons. There’s something which awakens you, makes you alert, the way the shift of wind before a thunderstorm does. Maybe this is the instinct of ancient humans who had better have plenty of food stored away by now, or be on their way to warmer places.
But for me, all through the month, October’s change and alertness are tuned to the holiday of hidden things: Halloween.
When I was a boy, we plotted our Halloween costumes for weeks—how do you build an extra set of arms that will move along with your real ones? Can I walk three miles on homemade stilts? Does this look scary? Friends competed to come up with the most creative costumes—ones that would completely erase their identities. Look—is that an old man? No, it’s Tom!
The more wildly creative you were with your costume, the better.
Halloween night was the rustle of frost-crisped leaves underfoot in the dark, our faces damp with hot breath behind masks, and tiny eyeholes which limited our sight. It was a swinging, candy-heavy pillowcase—not a paper bag, because dew melted the bottoms of paper bags as we crossed dark yards to get to the next pool of light at the next front door. Then we’d have to fish around in cold, wet leaves for all of our fallen treasure, and we knew we’d miss some.
Halloween was the uneasy moment of meeting a group of strange and unearthly characters out on the road somewhere, away from the safety of our homes, with each group asking the other, “Who is
that?” We’d laugh with relief when we found out: It’s just them.
Halloween seemed to be a kind of demarcation line between exciting things and dreary things. The Jack o’ Lantern morphed from a toasty-smelling fantasy one night to a slimy, sagging wreck the next.
After Halloween came November, gray November. As squirrels fabricated masses of leaves high in trees in which to over-winter; we went indoors. There was a feeling of settling in for the cold season, of digging in to our own burrows. Cold nights and heavy blankets. Indoors to me also meant burrowing farther into my own thoughts. It was a nesting time, a settling in time—and a settling in to what?
A good book, a good story to think about, and time to sketch and write.
Like most children, I liked finding places to hide: a makeshift fort built of couch cushions and sheets, a fantastic new structure, or the tight space under the bed. I burrowed in my bedroom closet, dug down deep into piles of pokey-cornered toys, stuffed animals and clothing. I often took a book with me. In these hiding places, nobody knew where I was. By myself alone, there were no distractions, no parents asking about my day, nobody trying to get me to do something. I was free to disappear between the covers of the book into the story and explore by myself. Hiding with a book is ownership of that book—my
The siren calls of the computer, television, iPod, and iPhone has been discussed to death, and hiding away from them is hard. But how can you explore Narnia while car ads blare at you? Who can focus on learning Quidditch while the computer or cell phone bings
to tell you a message has arrived? A trip into a book is usually a solitary journey, and having a solitary place to read seems to make the crossing over into another world that much easier.
So it behooves us to let kids read where they want to. Whether it’s on the floor, hanging over the side of the bed upside down, blood rushing to their faces, or curled up in a cardboard box with a book. My local elementary school library has fostered the hide-and-read urge by building a wall with nooks or cells in it, and students can climb inside to read. It’s a great way to encourage reluctant readers. You don’t get to go into the wall unless you take a book with you.
As adults, I think it’s still important to dedicate some space, away from life’s distracting things, only for reading. Just as when we were kids, a special reading place makes our transition into a story easier. We can slip lightly between two realities, and join the book’s characters as an invisible companion in their adventures. Nobody in that place knows who we are, or even that we’re there with them. It’s kind of like the freedom of running through the night with a bag of candy in your hand.
But unlike Halloween, reading’s charged magical energy can continue all year long. Brian Lies is the award-winning author-illustrator of the New York Times bestsellers BATS AT THE BEACH, BATS AT THE LIBRARY, and BATS AT THE BALLGAME. In addition, he has written and illustrated more than twenty books for children. Visit him online at www.brianlies.com.
© 2011 Brian Lies. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.