|The Arrow Collar Man, illustration by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, from this grand Pinterest board.|
They not only showed up, they arrived and sat, on chairs or the floor, with mothers and aunts (no dogs in the library, at least not when it was so crowded), visiting cousins, grandparents and anyone who had no irreversible demands on his or her time. And they were attentive and, it seemed, interested. He hoped his voice wouldn't catch in the most poignant parts, though it wouldn't be the worst thing if it did.
When that day's reading concluded, Irene Ripley waited until audience members had offered their greetings and thanks to The Reading Man and approached with what he was coming to know, after very few encounters, as her Asking A Favor face. She was a stealthy force of nature and he but a flimsy inland creature. "Thank you, Robert. That was moving and beautiful. They'll be back next time, I expect along with all the town's business owners who've put up their "gone fishing" signs so they don't miss the fun."
Robert was still absorbing the warm response, trying not to let his ego puff like a baked good at Gloria's, trying not to feel like some minor rock star on a very small stage, when Irene mentioned the library was also offering a writing program that summer. "I think hearing their stories read in front of an audience, hearing their thoughts come to life in a new form, would be so encouraging, don't you?" Robert tried to look agreeably non-committal, waiting for what was to come. Irene took his elbow and led him to her office where she handed him a manilla folder of notebook pages, covered in determined block printing or penciled cursive, a name and grade level posted in each upper right corner
"My thinking," she said, "is to have a special event, separate from the Dickens, with a printed program, the student's name included along with the title of the story. You can see they are only a page long, just twenty authors. Will you help me?" Robert looked at the first paper, the work of Lewis, grade 5. "Warren Westover was a worm," it began, "with the mind of a genius giant."
"Of course," he told her, as his own secret child aspects began to hop and giggle with anticipation.