Tales from the Library's Children's Desk

by Bill Peak

On a recent Thursday, Miss Rosemary had a professional puppet show on tap, which meant I got to work the children's desk while she helped the puppeteers prepare the meeting room for their performance. Sitting at the children's desk on such a morning—children and parents milling about in anticipation of the big event—is like sitting in the front-row at a three-ringed circus: wherever you look, something is going on.

I was watching a couple of kids play with the plastic dinosaurs (I love it when the dinosaurs speak to each other), when a movement at the far end of the room caught my eye. A mother and her daughter were walking toward me. The little girl was about five and, apparently, she had just noticed that people swing their arms when they walk. Her mother was holding her left hand, but her right was still free to practice this novel motion. Without any relation to pace or stride, the little girl was swinging her right arm through a series of erratic parabolas, going from nearly vertical (and almost over the top of her head) to nearly horizontal, and then back again. She did this without any evidence of self-consciousness, strolling along as you or I might through downtown Easton, her right arm all the while flailing about as if possessed.

Even as I was enjoying this performance, an older child, a boy of perhaps ten or eleven, walked up to the desk to check out a book. When I asked if he had a library card (he was at the delicate age where you can embarrass a boy if he thinks you think his mother still has to hold his card for him), he answered in the affirmative and then went on to add, “I also keep credit cards in my wallet. 'Course I'm not allowed to use them, but I keep them there. Want to see?”

Curious as to which credit cards a parent would entrust to so young a child, I nodded, and the boy quickly reached into the back pocket of his shorts. But extricating his wallet turned out to be more of a chore than either of us had expected, the thing apparently shoved into a pocket several sizes too small for it. Nevertheless the child soldiered on, and, like the little girl, he was at an age where he could struggle mightily with a wallet stuck in his back pocket and not feel at all self-conscious about it. Indeed, during the good half-minute it took him to free the thing, he continued to carry on a conversation with me as if he fought with wallets like this every day. When, finally, he managed to wrestle the massive thing clear of his pants, he flipped it open with a flourish and proudly displayed his “credit cards.”

And I obligingly oohed and ahhhed over his collection of plastic motel room keys.

Finally, as if the room full of laughing, happy, expectant children were taking its final bow, a little girl I'd never seen before twirled into view from behind the wall beside my desk, flounced her skirts, looked up at me as if expecting applause, and asked, “Am I pretty?” It was the easiest question I had to answer all day.