Central Children’s Room Memories: Veronica Schanoes
The sixth in a series of memories by people who love the Central Children’s Room of New York Public Library.
This past May, I earned my PhD in English at the University of Pennsylvania, where I studied contemporary feminist revisions of fairy tales and classical myths, and this September, I began as an Assistant Professor at Queens College-CUNY. I was hired to fill a position in children’s literature.
Coming back to NYC was my dream–I grew up in the city, and didn’t leave until I went to graduate school. I grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a family that valued (and still values) reading and writing above almost everything else. I never wanted for anything…but back in those days, we couldn’t just walk into a bookstore and buy ten books at a time. Given that I was the kind of kid who read 10-20 books a week, that meant that the public library system was a necessity! My mother took me to the library once a week, and we alternated between the Jefferson Market branch and the Donnell, for its children’s collection. I never had trouble finding my favorite books to read again or finding new books. Actually, what I had trouble with was finding too many books! My mother’s rule was that if I checked out more than six books, I had to carry them home myself…and I always ended up carrying my books home myself. I vividly remember taking the F from 53rd St. to 2nd Ave. carrying a tote back that was just packed with hardcover children’s books of all kinds, from classics of children’s fantasy to collections of Peanuts cartoons to my favorite book of manners; the bag cut into my shoulder and I staggered around in a melodramatic manner trying to get my mother to carry the bag for me and I whined and whined and whined about how heavy it was–but it never once occurred to me to check out fewer books. And I always had finished my stack by the next week.
The Donnell was the only library open on Sundays; its furniture was my size (I can still picture those dark pink padded chairs); I could happily spend hours inching my way among its rows and rows of bookshelves (none of them out of my childhood reach!) or sitting down on the floor wherever I happened to be to read the books I’d piled up. When I realized that my very own library was the home of the original Winnie the Pooh and his friends, I wasn’t the least surprised–after all, where else would they be other than the Donnell?
Later on, when I was a teenager, I was very unhappy. I didn’t have an easy time. But I still went often to the Donnell Library after school to read science fiction and fantasy and to pore over Pennie Smith’s The Clash: Before and After, her brilliant book of photos of the punk band that saved my life.
One final memory: when I was around eight years old, my mother took me to some special exhibit at the MoMA. I don’t remember what it was, because we didn’t get in. We waited and waited and waited and I got progressively less patient and more fidgety. Finally we got off the line and ate lunch and went to a little gift shop where I found a nutcracker that looked to me exactly like the one in the ballet. We went back to stand on line again but I kept casting wistful looks across the street at the Donnell until my mother looked at me and said "Would you rather just go to the library?" "YES!" I shouted. On our way home, carrying the tote bag stuffed with books, I looked up at my mother and said "Mommy, this has been the best day ever." "The best day ever?" she said, "a toy and the Donnell?" "Yes," I said happily, "a toy and the Donnell."
Professor Veronica Schanoes
Queens College – CUNY
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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