Children need a safe place where they can dream of better things. I know whereof I speak, having been a child — and the middle child at that — of a broken home. I might have despaired if it weren’t for Kalamazoo’s Washington Square Library, where I lived every spare minute of my young life from age 9 or so until high school.
That reading room was a splendid place to a young kid: Tudor style, with wrought iron, leaded glass — and children’s books. My favorite seat was the window seat in the back wall, with a cushion on it below the leaded window that looked onto the marsh, a glimpse of the wild from a repository of civilization.
At first I’d pick out books at random. But I’d discover after some pages that I’d already read them. So I started at the far left corner of the back wall and read down shelf by shelf until I’d finished the last wall of books near the librarian’s desk.
I asked the librarian if I could now go into the stacks, for grown-ups, given that I had read everything else. She said yes, but I must get her approval for the books I chose. I must have gone on to boarding school shortly thereafter, because my recollection is that arrangement didn’t last long.
The Washington Square Library in Kalamazoo, Mich., recently celebrated its 100th anniversary some 70 years after I first took refuge in it, and I’m sure it’s still saving children’s lives.