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Biblio File, For Teachers
The $2 Time Machine
A few months ago I began thinking about the earliest books I remember reading and the first librarian I remember. The librarian was an older gentleman named Paige Ellisor. One book in particular stands out in my memory as a favorite. I recently began searching for a copy of that book, to read it again after over thirty years, and to try and see why I found it so memorable.
Like most kids I read a lot of comics. I had various Marvel and DC comics and bunch of those Don Martin Mad Magazine paperbacks. As for books, one of the first I remember reading was Dinosaur Time by Peggy Parish and Arnold Lobel. All the boys in the class raced to try and find that one every time the class visited the library. I probably checked that book out about 20 times. Sometimes Mr. Ellisor would have it pulled aside for me, and I would think "Ellisor rhymes with dinosaur!" as I took the book from him.
I also read Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, but what I remember most about it was having to draw pictures for an illustrated book review.
Then there was a book that Mr. Ellisor suggested to me. He had a knack for connecting kids with books they liked. My likes included, among other things, dinosaurs, snakes, planes, space, buried treasure, The Hardy Boys, and the television show In Search Of, hosted by Leonard Nimoy. I was constanly looking at the color snake photographs (coral snakes, copperheads, king cobras!) in the S volume of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia. As mentioned in a previous post, I was obsessed with The Guinness Book of World Records. I asked for books on these subjects every time I went to the library so Mr. Ellisor knew what I liked. From what I recalled, the book he suggested was called Abercrombie and H2O. I could not remember much about the book specifically, I just remember really liking it.
I had no luck finding a book with the title Abercrombie and H2O in NYPL's Catalog. I then searched WorldCat and various online book retailers. No luck. That was extremely frustrating because I knew the book existed. I could close my eyes and see the colors of the cover. I remembered laying on my childhood couch in my childhood living room, looking at the cover and thinking about the implausibility of the one boy snorkling in such shallow water while the two other boys stood just behind him. I remembered Mr. Ellisor handing me the book, the way he slowly pronounced Abercrombie, the way he quietly explained that H2O was the "scientific name" for water. The book existed but I could not find a record of it anywhere. Obviously I was missing something.
I eventually found out that I had the title wrong. Abercrombie was one of three brothers, the other two being Christopher and Benjamin (yes, they were triplets), and the book was called Three Boys and H2O. It was written by Nan Hayden Agle and Ellen Wilson. They wrote a series of Three Boys adventure books, including Three Boys and a Helicopter, Three Boys and a Lighthouse, Three Boys and a Mine, Three Boys and the Remarkable Cow, Three Boys and Space, Three Boys and a Train, and Three Boys and a Tugboat. I had not read any of the other books and upon seeing the other titles was instantly trying to find the connections between boring bovines and exciting subjects like lighthouses and space. I guess in regards to 1950s adventure stories for young boys, a large milk-producing creature with four stomaches ranks right up there with helicopters, mines, and trains.
I found a copy of Three Boys and H2O for about $2.00 from a used book dealer and received it a week later.
I reread the book in one sitting.
After so many years not much had changed. The cover was exactly as I remembered; same orange, yellow, and green colors, same improbable snorkler. The boys called their grandmother Gran, just like I did. I had not remembered any specific illustrations inside but recalled most after thumbing through the book. The book mentions "pieces of eight" and I remembered as a child asking what "pieces of eight" was. I was fascinated by the prospects of finding treasure, both buried and the under-the-sea variety.
I then began to remember other things from this time in my life:
The school library. The information desk. Where the stacks were. Which way we faced when the librarian read to us. I remembered the teacher who started crying in front of the class while reading Where the Red Fern Grows. I remembered the entire class sitting wide-eyed and quiet and kind of freaked out at the sight of an adult crying. I remembered crying myself a few weeks later while watching Where the Red Fern Grows on TV with a neighbor. He asked what was wrong and I said I had something in my eye. I remembered the silhouettes in the bottom right corners of 1973 Topps baseball cards, the bright colors and design of 1975, the cursive team names on the 1978 cards. I remembered the Bigfoot episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man. I remembered wanting to legally change my name to Arthur Fonzarelli. I remembered the In Search Of episode about voodoo that gave me nightmares. I remembered carpooling to school in the back of a neighbor's station wagon, listening to Hot Chocolate's "You Sexy Thing" on the radio while reading Dinosaur Time. I remembered the school playground and the track around it. The chain-link fence that the students locked their bikes to. My beautiful orange Schwinn Stingray with the white banana seat that was stolen because it wasn't locked. The piece of junk black Huffy I started locking to the chain-link fence.
I contacted my elementary school to see if by any chance there were still any teachers there who were there 35 years ago. Perhaps someone remembered Paige Ellisor? Maybe there was a plaque hanging on the wall in the library? He was old then (at least that's how I remember him) so it is very likely that he has been a librarian at that great library in the sky for some time now. After talking to three different people and being on hold the school secretary (she's only been at the school "a few years" and "wasn't alive 35 years ago") took my name and number and said she would ask around. I never heard back from her.
If there isn't a plaque honoring Paige Ellisor in that elementary school library then there should be. There should be a large portrait in oil! He was the first librarian at that school. He was my first librarian.
I'm sure most readers have their own Mr. Ellisor, someone who was single-handedly responsible for creating and shaping their life-long love of literacy and learning.
I can only hope that 35 years from now someone will remember me and the moment I handed them their favorite book.