I've never done a book theme, although I've wanted to. Books are just so darn heavy and I always lug too much stuff as it is.
Mom's Book Bag
But I have some heavy duty book bags and this one is my favorite. This bag belonged to my mom and she loved books more than anyone. The bag with the funny cartoon of a man raking piles of book pages, should sort of make me sad. My mom used this bag long after Alzheimer's stole away her ability to read. It hung on her walker and later her wheelchair. It should make me sad to use it, but it just makes me smile to think of her. It was because of my mom that I started gathering seniors with special needs around the quilt to share stories and thoughts.
I knew my 4 groups would be very different, so I had to pack enough stuff for different approaches. I expected a few "book worms" to be giddy over the theme. But I also have a few who don't even know how to read. How could I make this fun for all?
Books as Gifts
We talked about all the books given as gifts...coffee table books, bibles, dictionaries to students and cookbooks given to young brides, back in the day.
Everyone loved looking at the cookbooks and recalling favorite recipes. This was a comfortable way for some to ease into the theme of books. Our discussion didn't have to be all about great authors and poets!
We played some guessing games with things people use for reading. The book light was a surprise to many who had never heard of such a thing. The idea of a Kindle or Nook was even harder to grasp for some. In one group I had a bookmark decorating project, for those who prefer a creative project over discussion. But I didn't really need it. Everyone had book memories!
Where do people read?
We talked about favorite reading places...cozy chairs, bathtubs, hammocks and beaches. We talked about people who can read anywhere and anytime, on buses or while standing in line. One of my dear friends told us she used to read in the outhouse. "I didn't mind. At least I didn't get bothered there." There were some, like me who said they couldn't even read in a doctor's office. "I end up listening to nearby conversations." We talked about kids and books and many remembered reading to their children. We thought about other times when adults have read aloud to each other and how that doesn't happen as much anymore.
Books for Kids
We tried to recall children's books we loved. We read a little Dick, Jane & Sally and laughed at the dull story, but understood why it thrilled children to read those simple words. Betty, in one group picked up The Cat in the Hat and read with great gusto. She left out certain words, then paused to let the enthused group fill in the blank. We talked about the wonderful illustrations in children's books and how the style and quality has changed over the years.
Books That Aren't Books
We thought about how the word book is used. Booking a reservation...a book of matches. We brainstormed compound words that included book. Then I showed them my teenie treasure that once belonged to my grandmother. I always loved her tiny book-of-matches with its leather cover and sliding wooden holder for matches. We talked about book decorations and treasure boxes disguised as books.
Uses for Books
I held up this hefty antique book and we laughed at all the books that people use just for decoration. "What else do people use books for besides reading?" I asked. We heard all sorts of ideas from paper weights to step stools and booster seats. "You can clobber someone over the head!" This Book of Gems belonged to my husband's great aunt and she kept it filled with treasures. Slivers of material and pressed flowers and tiny notes. I told my groups about my mom and her funny sense of humor about her "Arthur Miller Bank". She used to have a biography of Arthur Miller on her shelf where she often tucked a twenty here and ten there. "Arthur is a good guy. He'll keep my money safe." She would laugh. Now and then she'd fret that she needed some cash to run to the CVS and then she would laugh. "Oh yes. I'll just take a look in my Arthur Miller Bank!"
"Blank Books" were all the rage a few years back. But people have been filling the pages of scrapbooks, sketchbooks, autograph books and diaries for a long time. Quite a few remembered keeping diaries over the years. I brought in my very first diary with its broken lock. I opened to a random page and read the riveting details of my day...what I had for lunch and who I played with after school. A few laughed and agreed there was no hope for publishing that diary. And then we remembered another young girl who once kept a diary. Our discussion became serious as we recalled what we knew of Anne Frank.
Libraries and Book Mobiles
We talked about the quiet and cozy feeling of libraries of the past. We tried to understand why libraries have had to change with the times. There's a lot more going on than reading in libraries today.
I brought in photos of book mobiles over the years. Many of us had memories of squeezing into the cozy little trucks that carried shelves of books to our schools or neighborhoods.
Burro with Books
We discovered some pretty creative ways of book sharing in communities all over the world. This little burro carrying his load of pocketed books, was a favorite.
I was able to dig up a fine collection of comic books from the 1960's. We laughed about all the books that teachers would ban from classrooms during reading time. Most teachers didn't consider comic books and coloring books to be suitable reading material. But we had a good time, mostly enjoying the entertaining ads!
(Like..."204 Revolutionary War Figures for $1.95!" and "Daisy BB Gun from $5.95!")
All my groups love quizzes and trivia, but I often feel like a teacher in a one room school. The abilities and skills in one group can be so varied. In one group, a few enjoyed the challenge of matching authors and quotes, while others at the same table had fun listing words that rhymed with book.
What did I learn?
Even though the folks who gather around the quilt each week seem to be an odd mix of personalities, skills and interests, I'm always touched to see how supportive and caring they are of one another. I was impressed with the amount of sharing that went on with the books. When we think of books we usually conjure up a picture of one person reading...quiet and thoughtful. But it was a treat to step back now and then, to observe how the books at the table were actually bringing people together!
A Little Cowboy in All of Us
It seemed like everyone had some tiny connection to our theme of cowboys and rodeos, boots and hats. With my Community Center group we played a sweet version of Home on the Range that had a good amount of mood setting instrumental as well as just enough singing to inspire the group to join in. The combination seemed to set the mood for sharing and imagining. First we heard stories. "Back in Michigan, when I was a young girl, I used to ride my horse to deliver newspapers!" "Well, I never rode a horse, but we had mules. In fact our mules would pull our wagon to the Sugar Mill so we could shop. We carried our our groceries back in the wagon!"
At one point I softened the music and dimmed the lights and we imagined sitting around a campfire at night after a long day on the range. "What would we do? What would we think about?" There was no rush for answers. We let the music set the scene. "I'll bet we'd be thinking about home." Said one voice. This group, so known for their laughter and loud playful voices, spoke softly. "We might look at the stars." "We might sing." And we did sing along for a while, with a recording of Ed Littlefield Jr.
For just a sample of the music that inspired us... http://www.amazon.com/Ed-Littlefield-Jr./e/B000APSY12
A Yodeling Surprise
Once again, a recording of music brought about a nice surprise. With one of my senior groups, we joked about "wantin' us a cowboy" since no men had joined us that day. I played a recording of Patti Page singing about being a cowboy's sweetheart. This song with it's twang-y sound just made me chuckle. I told them to get ready for some yodeling because it was coming right up. Then what do you know... it turns out we had a real yodeler in our group. Margaret was the best! We turned off our music and let her go at it. When she finished, the whole group applauded and whooped. Margaret grinned and sang us another!
.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K4hX8GIC3E (Patti's song)
Rodeo and Horseback Memories
My last group talked about rodeos, since the Houston rodeo was going on at the time. While we chatted, we looked over a collection of spurs, horseshoes and a miniature leather saddle. One woman who was joining our group for the first time laughed about the shape of the saddle and wondered if it would work on a camel. "They had camels in Texas, you know." We talked about that part of Texas history and then she shared about growing up outside of Dallas. She remembered riding horses on the ranch...and the dust. "Especially during the dustbowl, when dust got through every crack in every window and door."
We have a number of folks from the northeast in our group, so none of them had stories about ranches and dustbowls. But they did have memories of rodeos. It always surprises me to hear Ken and Eunice and Robert swapping stories of growing up in NYC and on this day, they had rodeo memories in common... from Madison Square Gardens!
What did I learn?
As I said, each of us had a little something to share, whether recalling western movies or playing cowboys as kids. It made me wonder about kids today. I wish I had taken my theme to the Shelter this week so I could find out if kids still play cowboy, at all. They might...at least around Houston Rodeo time.
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.