Welcome to Memory Monday, a new weekly feature I’m trying out! Every Monday, I’ll post a book-related memory. If you have one you’d like to share, please send it to me at email@example.com, and I’ll post my favorites!
Today’s memory comes to you from my fourth grade classroom. At the end of every school day, our teacher, Mrs. Ryan, gathered us on the rug in the corner and read us one chapter of a book. One of the first books we read together was Gwinna, by Barbara Helen Berger. (This remains one of my favorite children’s books, and it astonishes me how many people have never heard of it. The story is gorgeous, and the illustrations are spectacular. If you haven’t read it, READ IT NOW. Run, do not walk.) Gwinna is the story of a twelve-year-old redhead with wings who can talk to owls, play the harp, and hear music in the wind that nobody else can hear. I thought she was the coolest main character EVER.
There’s a part near the middle of the story in which a talking tree character sacrifices herself to become a harp for Gwinna. As Gwinna watches the axe take her friend down, she is so horrified and distraught that she collapses and blacks out. And listening to Mrs. Ryan read that part of the story aloud, I felt Gwinna’s anguish so deeply that I thought I was going to fall over. When my teacher closed the book at the end of the chapter and and dismissed us, my friends leaped up and headed for the door, chattering and laughing as they always did. But I could barely make my legs work. How could everyone else be so unaffected? The tree had just sacrificed herself for her friend! This was a big freaking deal!
That was the first time I’d ever physically felt an author’s words like a whack with a two-by-four, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I still love it when a book can do that to me. (This means I sometimes end up gasping out loud or crying on subway platforms and planes.)
Relatedly, Gwinna was the first book I ever felt an obsessive need to OWN. Up until then, repeated check-outs from the library had always been good enough with me. But not anymore, not with that story. I needed to know it was sitting in my bedroom at all times. My parents bought it for me a month later, to my unending delight. (Thanks, Mom!) I still have my original copy.