Alma from Weymouth, Massachusetts

When I was growing up, my family moved often. At least twice a year we relocated to a new apartment in a different part of Brooklyn, NY. As a result of all of this moving, I did not have a chance to establish myself in a school to make friends. I was always the new kid on the block, and was the focus of every bully in every school I attended. Since I wasn’t living in the neighborhoods too long, I didn’t have a chance to make friends. In addition, my single parent mother didn’t want us going outside because she considered the area to be “rough.” Thus, I would run home from school to avoid the bullies, and never leave until the next day when the cycle would begin again. School was a very lonely place for me.

One day, when I was 11 years old, I discovered the local library. My mom saw it as a safe place, and allowed me, and my brothers and sisters, to walk there as a group. When I walked in those doors for the first time and saw the array of books before me, I was speechless. Reading had always been a love for me, but we couldn’t afford any of our own books to read. Now here I was, surrounded by books of every color of the rainbow that were just waiting for me to explore.

The wonderful children’s librarian allowed me to take home ten books every week to read. Contrary to what I’d thought, I was able to select my mountain of ten books and bring them home to devour. Reading ten books every week gave me such happiness. I can honestly say that the library changed my life that day because I was always the lonely girl that no one wanted to be near. I was the girl daily tormented by bullies. Now, I could forget all of that because I had books to read. These books became the friends I didn’t have. They were able to magically transport me to another world, where kindness existed, and children had friends, adventures, and a school filled with fun. The library became my sanctuary.

Every Friday afternoon, from 3:30-4:30, I returned to that lovely, magical neighborhood library. The librarian had a knack for entertaining her small group, made up of my 7 brothers and sisters and a few other children. She would show us movies based on books, and have contests where we could win some chocolate. My favorite was a movie based on the French story called “The Red Balloon.” I felt that the magical balloon in the story was like the library. It had taken me away from my sadness and given me joy.

As I grew older, I never lost my love for reading and the library, as it took me through my elementary, junior high and high school bully filled years. The magic of the time spent reading these books enabled me to get high grades, and become the first, and only, person in my family to get a college education. I became an elementary school teacher and started a classroom library for my students because I wanted them to feel the love for reading and the library that I had felt. I wrote about my experiences in a non-published book that I read to the children, and many told me that they also saw the library as a wonderful place. Even after 21 years of teaching, the library remained a central part of me as a teacher, now passing on that love to my students.

That particular branch of the Brooklyn Public Library may, or may not, still be there. However, the change I felt that day still remains in my heart. I am now all grown up and, as I enter local neighborhood branches, the first place I go is to their children’s section. I go in with the hope that it will be filled with children who will also be changed. I still feel the library’s magic, even now, 34 years later.