The Talbot County Library Visits the Talbot County Schools
by Bill Peak
You know, we live in a remarkable place. Back in February, when the
Talbot County Free Library, in honor of this year's Frederick Douglass
bicentennial, put out a call for “local heroes” to read to children in
our elementary schools, 80-some-odd people quickly volunteered to take
time out of their busy days to demonstrate to children they didn't
even know the value they place upon reading.
Needless to say, when our library director asked if I would like to be
one of the readers, I jumped at the chance. For years now it has been
my privilege to work with the children of Talbot County. I've oohed
and aahed with them over the library craft they've created out of a
paper plate, a few scraps of construction paper, and an excessive
amount of glue. I've watched their reading tastes grow and change as
they've grown and changed: from Dr. Seuss to The Hardy Boys to The
Catcher in the Rye. I know how terrific our kids are. I know the
power they have to make even the most jaded adult smile. The
opportunity to read to a class full of such wonders was not to be
missed. And besides, the word “hero” has seldom if ever been used in
conjunction with my name.
And so it was that on Friday, March 2, this hero reported bright and
early for his appointment with destiny at St. Michaels Elementary
School. And, upon entering the building, the first thing he saw was a
woman walking down the hall dressed in ... Were those pajamas?!
Yes, you guessed it, I'd arrived on “Pajama Day!”—and I found all the
children in the class of second graders I'd been assigned to dressed
in brightly colored PJ's. When the teacher told them to sit on the
floor in front of me, it was as if I'd been invited into some family's
home, an entire brood of children gathered before me for a little
storytelling before bedtime.
I began by asking if they knew who Frederick Douglass was. Hands
leapt into the air, some of the children coming up onto their knees to
extend their hands higher still. The little girl I called on said
that he was a famous man whose birthday was Valentine's Day, and that
he had lived in St. Michaels. A little boy looked at her in
astonishment. “Here?” he asked. The little girl nodded earnestly. I
nodded earnestly. The little boy pursed his lips and gave a breathy
Which made me remember when I first discovered that Abraham Lincoln
had been born in my home state. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln,
George Washington-these are all distant gods to children, images found
in picture books of people who wore funny clothes and lived long ago
and far away. To discover that one of them was born nearby, that such
an eminence had the same sort of earthly origin as yourself ... well, I
think it gives a child a sense of place and perspective. This street
I live upon, this county I live in, has been touched by greatness, one
of the mighty has walked the same ground I walk. And, more important
still, if someone so magnificent, so seemingly unapproachable and
grand, could rise from a place as mundane and prosaic as this one
sometimes seems, then so could someone else. So could I!
And I realized I'd discovered another reason I appreciate all that the
Frederick Douglass Honor Society has done to raise our awareness of
Talbot County's most famous native son. I think it's good for our
children. I know it's been good for me. I can't walk by our county
jail without remembering that Douglass was once imprisoned there. I
can't look at his statue on the courthouse lawn without giving thanks
for all that he gave, all that he did, to bring liberty, grace, and
justice to our world. It says something about the man, don't you
think, that, not knowing for sure what day he'd been born on, he chose
Valentine's for his birthday?
Anyway, it was as I was thinking these thoughts that a little boy near
the back of the room raised his hand. “Is he still alive?” he asked.
And for the first time in my life I had to deliver the sad news that
Frederick Douglass is no more. I think it would have touched the
Great Orator's heart to see the solemn faces those children adopted
when they learned their local hero had passed away.
On Saturday, September 22, the Talbot County Free Library, in
partnership with the Frederick Douglass Honor Society and other area
organizations, will host Talbot County's annual Frederick Douglass
Day. You can learn about all the festivities planned. I firmly believe that, joining
in these festivities, you will help make it possible for all our
children to learn that they too are capable of greatness.