Education Opinion

Baggage Claim

By Donalyn Miller — November 24, 2011 2 min read
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Returning from the NCTE and ALAN conferences on Tuesday night, my husband, Don, and youngest daughter, Sarah, met me at baggage claim. As we waited for my suitcases to spin past us on the carousel, I warned Sarah that the bags were heavy. She didn’t ask why. She knew. My carry-on luggage and checked bags were crammed with the books I bought and received during my trip. I sheepishly told my husband that I mailed another box home from Chicago, too.

I love these yearly conferences because I reconnect with colleagues and friends, attend incredible sessions that improve my teaching, and stalk my favorite authors, but bringing home a mountain of books for my students and me to read is a nice bonus. I plan to fill one suitcase with books and wheel it into my classroom on Monday morning, so my kids can unpack the souvenirs I brought them.

When packing for this trip, I struggled to select which books I wanted to take with me. Don gently asked me why I was taking ten books to a reading conference. Wouldn’t I get some books while I was there? I spent almost an hour shuffling piles, deciding which books I could download onto my Kindle and which ones I could leave behind--trying to explain to Don why I needed physical books with me.

Gently, he said, “I understand. I do. You’re going to be away from home for eleven days; you need your books around you because you’ll be lonely and your books comfort you.”

Can you tell he is a reader, too?

Even when I’m empty-handed, I’m carrying books with me--books that have taken up shelf space in my soul. Like the Cemetery of Forgotten Books from Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, I am keeping many books alive because I remember them.

I carry Charlotte’s Web, so Fern, Wilbur and Charlotte can remind me how to be a good and loyal friend. I carry To Kill a Mockingbird, so Atticus can advise me when I struggle to stand up for what’s right. I carry Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, so I can smell a baby’s freshly-washed hair and hold her long after my two daughters are too big for my lap. I carry Hound Dog True, so I can introduce Mattie to the children in my classroom who need her.

Sitting with Don and Sarah at dinner, we think about the books we carry with us. It is a quiet moment, each of us thumbing through our individual shelves, until Sarah whispers, “Go, Searchlight, go.” That memorable line from Stone Fox connects us to a shared place--reading that book, cheering for Searchlight, and crying together at the end. All three of us carry Searchlight with us now, and we carry each other alongside her.

The baggage in our lives can weigh us down, but the books we carry with us somehow lighten the load. Thankfully, there isn’t a weight limit. We always have room for one more.

What books do you carry with you always? How do they connect you to the people and ideas that have shaped your life?

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.