A Dragon Book, a Chance Encounter, and Love

Josie Leavitt -- September 5th, 2013

Every day at the bookstore people find books they love. Oftentimes people come in on a quest, a ritual that might get repeated in every store they visit. Over and over again. We all know them, the people who loved a book so much as a kid that they spend much of their adult lives looking for it. Every once in a while someone finds that book in our store; the fates align and the book falls into the hands of the eager, long-seeking reader.

Such a thing happened this week. The Next Door Cafe in our building employs a lovely early 20-something who unbeknownst to me had been on a long quest for a book. The book was read to her in first grade by a beloved teacher whom Brianna is still in touch with, mainly to ask yearly if Mrs. Watson remembered the book she read aloud 16 years ago. Brianna could only remember that there was a dragon on the cover and it was about a boy. This quest was a solitary one for young Brianna. She went to bookstores and searched dejected almost before she started, because she was convinced the book would never appear. She was convinced she would recognize it when she saw it.

I’ve been on a quest like Brianna’s. In my case my beloved fifth-grade silent reading book, The Great Brain, was the elusive grail. I just remember loving it and only being able to remember snippets of escapades from the book. I wanted to reread the book in eighth grade and couldn’t come with more than Utah. Honestly, I think this clue would have been enough for many of my contemporary bookselling cohorts, but back then it was a mystery. It remained a mystery until graduate school when one of my classmates was talking about a book about brothers in Utah. I cried out “Aha!!! Finally! It’s the Great Brain!” I was ecstatic.

Cut back to our young heroine, Brianna. She worked at the cafe on Saturday. A customer bought a paperback of My Father’s Dragon. I thought nothing of this, since we sell that book often. An hour later, Jesse, the manager of the cafe, came in and asked, ”Would you order me My Father’s Dragon? I want to get it for Brianna. She went crazy when someone laid it on the counter when they ordered lunch. She kept going on about “This is the book. This is it!!” The plot thickens because Jesse told us to let Brianna order the book for herself, but tell her it would be coming at the end of the week, not yesterday. He wanted to surprise her with it before he moved on to his new job.

True to what Jesse said, Brianna hopped in around five on Saturday to order the book. Her eyes were bright with the peace that comes from finally finding *the* book. We let her tell us the story Jesse had already shared. She was so excited to get the book, it was almost too cute. The book came in yesterday, and Jesse came in to pick it up. He was going to give it Brianna after the cafe closed at four. I swear we heard a massive whoop and some shouting at two past four. All over the book-loving world there was a tiny sigh of relief. Then someone came in asking if we “carried the book about the elephant and the circus” that he’d read as a child. And it started all over again.

Has there ever been a book you’ve obsessed about finding again?

 

26 thoughts on “A Dragon Book, a Chance Encounter, and Love

  1. susan golden

    I loved a book in my elementary school library about a girl who goes to live in different foster homes through no fault of her own. She sometimes runs away. Her social worker gives her a nickel so she can call her if she is unhappy. Don’t know why I loved it, but there you go. Decades later, I became the children’s literature specialist in a university library and while familiarizing myself with the fiction collection felt a tingle: when I saw it:A NIckel for Alice (also known as Runaway Alice). Well, it was a 1950′s book, not particularly brilliant and we had two copies. I just had to deaccession one and take it home….

  2. Rita

    For years I’ve been searching for a book I read in 5th or 6th grade and loved! The main characters were sisters, possibly twins, possibly named Margaret and Elizabeth (I’m pretty shaky on the names). They had very different personalities and one had tried dying her hair and it came out pink. The best part of the book was the time travel element. Something about the old house they’d moved into allowed for travel between another time and another family. I was in 5th grade in 1977, so that gives some indication of when the book was available. I would love to make “the squeal” of discovery some day.

  3. Becky

    Here I go with mine. A girl collects paper ephemera, news clippings, movie star pics in boxes or such- all gets destroyed in a fire and maybe she also collects quotations from Thoreau and Blake (my first and memorable exposure to those 2). This would have been read in the 70s.

  4. Joanne Clapp Fullagar

    Yes! And I have very little to go on: Early 50s. I don’t think it was a Golden Book, but about that size. I think that the cover had something with plaid on it. No memory of author, title, or ISBN.

    The story was about a group of children, and during at least part of the story they were at a beach. The reason the book stays in my mind is one of the illustrations: one of the children putting a foot into a small, green, breaking wave. In my memory, it was so realistic that as a child I could _feel_ the foot breaking the surface of the water!

  5. rosalyn

    Just this morning I had the nerve to ask a searching question following a Betsy Bird review, not knowing where else to ask. And now I’ve come upon this spot!
    There’s a carpenter here right now building book shelves for my children’s books collection. He has a 4 yr-old and has been searching for years for a book he recalls from his childhood:

    The animals in the city are so hot that when they go for ice cream they see others frying eggs on the sidewalk. There’s an ostrich pushing a baby carriage…

    Ring a bell with anyone??

  6. Emily

    Yes! And maybe you or your readers can help!

    I volunteered in the school library in middle school in the early 1990s. Occasionally the librarian would have a book that she wondered if it was too risque, so she would ask me & another volunteer to read them and give our opinions. So it would have been a teen book published around 1990-1993.

    It took place at a home for pregnant teen girls. Girls were send there by their families. I believe it was contemporary at the the time. One of the girls at the home, the best friend of the main character, was called Jezebel; we learn later that was not her real name but what her father forced her to go by once she became pregnant.

    As a librarian, I have helped people track down their missing books, both succesfully and unsuccessfully. But I have never figured out what mine is!

    1. Sue Carita

      I think Ruth Pennybaker’s Don’t Think Twice is the book you are looking for. It came out in the nineties and was a great story of girls waiting to give birth in a home where they had group discussions. It had great wit and heart, Sue

  7. Beth

    For years, I could not track down a book I read in middle school. Many people (librarians!) insisted it had to be “The Girl Who Owned a City”, but that wasn’t it. I finally put “gangs”, “New York”, “Future”, and “Science Fiction” into World Cat, and lo and behold, “City of Darkness” by Ben Bova popped up, and that was it!! I was overjoyed, put in an ILL for the book, and later secured a copy of my own on Amazon. And I still LOVE that book!

  8. Karen Johnson

    “The Forgotten Door” and “The Golden Enemy” by Alexander Key; “Lark” and the one about the Scottish kids who come to colonial America by Sally Watson. I found The Forgotten Door in a used bookstore. But the others I found on line were being sold for astronomical amounts ($100-$300). Eventually, it occurred to me to have my local library contact the library in my hometown and get an inter-library loan. Yay! They hadn’t been discarded! And I made photocopies of The Golden Enemy and Lark. Probably a copyright violation, but I swear I’ll buy them for real if/when I find them, but not from some collector who’s out to make a buck on an out-of-print book.

  9. dawn huston

    Various picture books in our house growing up “belonged” to one sister or another, and some got lost in the 4 moves, so I’ve never been able to find the one about the boy with the great imagination. All his imaginary creatures were real (at least to him) and could share his bathtub or any number of other things. One day ?something he imagined blew on his grandfather’s pipe so that the curtains caught fire and the fire department had to come, but it was the elephant (the boy was sure) that put out the fire–any help out there?

  10. Debbie W.

    I read a book in elementary school probably around the mid-60′s about a boy growing up in a jungle. He was self sufficient and I think the book covered his adventures, how he took care of himself, etc. I don’t recall other characters being in the book, even though there could have been and maybe I have forgotten. I wrote a letter to the librarian at my old elemtary school several years ago and described the book and asked if she knew what it could be, but she didn’t have any idea. Of course, the book could be long gone by now. I found a book called “Jungle Boy” (I think), that I thought might be the same book and ordered it from a used bookstore, but it didn’t appear to be the same book.

    I don’t remember the BOOK as much as I remember the way the book made me FEEL. I was off in another world while that book was in my lap! That book, among many others, is what made me the reader I am today.

  11. Kitti

    I went on this quest for George MacDonald’s “Golden Key.” I had read it in elementary school and my memory was filled with shimmering fish, shadows of lost trees, and walking on water without my feet making holes in the water. It was my mother who identified it for me!

  12. Joanne Fritz

    Oh, yes, I certainly have become obsessed with finding a particular book! Can’t remember the title or author or even much about the story, but the book was unique because it was a different story every time I read it. It was illustrated and the text contained some blank spaces, which I filled in by choosing a slip of paper with a word printed on it (the slips could have been perforated and originally came in the back of the book?). It might have been a young reader or early chapter book and I believe the story was about a boy and some bears in the woods. It could have had a yellow cover. This was in the mid-1960s.

    I’ve Googled every possible combination of the above and found nothing. I’ve even entered Stump the Bookseller at Loganberry Books, and never received any guesses. Like Spellbound, I’d be thrilled if you or one of your readers could figure it out.

  13. Spellbound

    I have been on three such book quests since childhood. Two of them, oddly enough, Flying Pig’s own Elizabeth solved for me. The first one was JANE-EMILY by Patricia Clapp, which Elizabeth just happened to mention on our ABC listserv several years ago when it was re-printed. She just recently gave me the title of the second one right here on this blog a few months ago: OLD BLACK WITCH! by Wende Devlin, in pursuit of which I practically stalked my kindergarten teacher and elementary school librarian during my late teens.

    If the Flying Pig team would like to go for the triumvirate, here is all that I remember of the third and last book I’m searching for: it was definitely in print by the mid-late 1970s, but I’m guessing it probably came out in the 1960s. The copy I read was a library edition, very plain cloth cover (sort of pinkish tan, as I recall). It was a simple real-world teen mystery (probably stand-alone and not part of a series) that had to do with a teenage girl and her friends who lived near the beach. I remember they collected driftwood. The mystery had to do with a piece of furniture, a cabinet or hutch, and something about it being a catty-corner cabinet… I was sure that “catty-corner” was in the title, but I’ve searched and searched over the years and can’t find anything that seems like the right book.

    Challenge extended… ;)

    Leslie

  14. Vicki Jaeger

    “The Keeping Days,” both the book and series, by Norma Johnston. I remembered it was about a girl named Tish and a boy named Kenny. They played Romeo and Juliet in a play in high school and fell in love; but most importantly Tish wanted to be a writer. (This was set in 1900, which makes it very forward-thinking for that time period.) I can tell you exactly where it was in the stacks at my hometown library, because I read and re-read that series so many times. But I couldn’t remember the author or name of the book as an adult. (I even went back to the library to look for it, but no dice.) Finally, I did a Library of Congress search with the character names and play title, and JACKPOT! Found a used copy of each and was able to satisfy the years of wondering. Then passed them on to my cousin’s girls, who were about the age I was when I first discovered them. A very satisfying full-circle moment!

  15. Stephanie Kilgore

    In 3rd grade I read this wonderful book about a girl who could leave her body and travel to the past to witness events. One of those included the Titanic sinking. I thought the title was “Ghosts I Have Been” but couldn’t remember the author. I could not find it anywhere. Finally, after being here for 4 years, I found it again (author is Richard PecK). I had the title right but for whatever reason no one could find it. I loved that book – it made such an impression on me then!!

  16. Ellie Miller

    Ayyup…for years before the films and TV series brought L.M. Montgomery back into mass market print, I searched in vain for a copy of “The Blue Castle” which I remembered reading and loving as a youngster. Then I went to Toronto for a bridge tournament and between sessions (figuring she’s a Canadian author – I might get lucky) I hit the used book stalls in the Harbor market area. About my third stop, I asked the usual question: “What do you have by L.M. Montgormery?” “Not much,” replied the seller, “No Anne books, but there is (reaching back to a shelf) this one…’ – “The Blue Castle” I literally yelled! WHICH of course negated any chance I might have had to dicker about the price, but it was the happiest $10 I ever spent.

    1. JessB

      Would you believe I not only love this book too, I have it in my bag right now! It called to me last night, so I started re-reading it. I am a big LM Montgomery fan too.

  17. Pamela Tallmadge

    I distinctly remembered sitting in my school library as a first grader and reading Gerald McBoing Boing.
    Years later, while working as a bookseller, I looked for it and could not find it listed anywhere. I decided maybe I had the title wrong but could not find it under Dr. Seuss. Six months later, a box of new books was delivered, and inside that box multiple copies of-Gerald McBoing Boing!

  18. Margaret

    Yes! There was a book I borrowed from the public library and read several times as a child (4th or 5th grade?) and would LOVE to find again, but I have no idea what it was called and have been unsuccessful in several half-hearted searches. It was about a young girl who unwillingly spends the summer visiting relatives or family friends in an old house with a big tree. Someone (?) the girl falls out of the tree and ends up back in time at the same house. There is a young boy named Christopher (Kit?) who I think turns out to be a character in the present as well as the past and someone had a broken leg. I remember loving the book and wish so much that I remembered the title. It probably was written in the 60s or maybe very early 70s, but the librarians are all gone, as is the library (sigh). Anyone know what I might be remembering?????

  19. Amy

    Still obsessed over a book I read in the library 40 years ago that was old at that time and disappeared when they moved to a new building. Girl who’s father is a ship captain 1800′s they end up around Hawaii or Dutch East Indies when a volcano explodes, I think. After all this time I’m not even sure that’s even right I just remember loving it and wanting to reread it.

  20. Debbie

    I have been on the search for a dog book called “Bristleface”. It was on a database for libraries, but not available in print. :( It is so wonderful when *the* book is found!

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