Tales of a Fifth Grade Reader

middle grade book

Amanda Cleary Eastep

For months, I had been feeling compelled to write a thank you letter to my 5 & 6 grade teacher.

Not because he was my favorite teacher. . .at least not as a 10-year-old. He rarely smiled and his dress shoes—as black and shiny as his slicked down hair—squeaked. Like the other parochial school teachers, he wore a suit and tie. I think I saw him smile once. A little. I don’t remember. He was quiet like me.

I do remember the five-shelf classroom library he stocked with books just for the fifth and sixth graders who shared the same room all day long.

That’s where I discovered How to Eat Fried Worms (the book!). . .and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret. (I hadn’t yet read the Book of Job and didn’t know you could question God.)

So all these decades later, I got his address from old friends and wrote to him. I told him I am a book editor now and my first two middle grade books will be published next spring.

I thanked him for that bookshelf.

Yesterday I received a reply, written in pencil on graph paper. . .the kind for neat dots and lines and numbers. Mr. A said eventually that small library grew to 200 books, and he later donated them to the public school where he taught for 20 years before retiring.

Enclosed with his letter was a middle grade novel, Katherine Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins. Exactly the kind of book that would have been on that narrow bookshelf. . .a book about a child trying to figure out the confusing and beautiful world.

A familiar story.

Now in pandemic isolation, Mr. A said he is watching the squirrels out the window. The nearby university library he frequents is closed.

And he said he is looking forward to reading my books next spring.

That is one of the most surprising plot twists I’ve ever read. It’s scary and humbling. It’s magic. It’s like the best stories.

Who instilled your love of books?

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