This morning, after sleeping off the 5 hours full of stress, fear, and anxiety from the drive that finally saw me safely to my hotel last night, I filled myself with free breakfast, called for my rental car from the valet, and attempted to drive through downtown Miami to the parking garage on the Miami-Dade College campus where the Miami Book Fair website claimed my parking would be free, provided I arrived early enough. I arrived at the start time of the fair, 10am, and was able to get a spot.
After I took the elevator down to the street and turned out of the parking garage, I then proceeded to walk three blocks in the wrong direction. After fumbling with Google Maps I turned back around and walked the four blocks back to the streets that had been closed for the Miami Book Fair. I arrived when it opened, and I was so early that some vendors were still setting up shop. There was a religion street and a children’s street, a writer’s row and a food vendor square, and straight down the middle of it all was a selection of new and used books from various vendors, including the most prominent independent bookstore in Miami, Books and Books.
I walked down the children’s book row first (not realizing they were themed) and by the time I hit the end and began walking back, I was starting to feel a bit discouraged. I drove 5 hours and paid for a hotel for this? The equivalent of a street book sale? And why was it so crowded right at opening? There were children EVERYWHERE. Little kids, high school kids, groups of kids following adults with signs and silly hats. I had arrived not at a book fair but at a field trip convention. Every public school English/Language Arts teacher from every surrounding school had gathered their 10-30 student max and set off to get them excited about reading at a street book fair with children’s books and meat on a stick.
And then the Grinch thought of something she hadn’t before. Maybe the Miami Book Fair, wasn’t just books brought out on the street by the stores. Maybe the book fair, perhaps, means a little bit more.
I turned at the end of the street and looked around. There were children of every color and every age. Dancing in the street and having a good time. Speaking different languages. Some bounced from booth to booth, looking for their favorites, others quietly moved between the tables, lightly opening the covers of those books they thought looked interesting. At one point I passed a booth of middle grade books, and approaching from the opposite direction was a herd of small boys. The one at the front suddenly screeched “DIARYOFAWIMPYKID” and it was like a dam breaking – they all sprinted past me in one excited wave to get at the books.
Reader, I felt my heart smile. I felt…joy, maybe? I almost turned around and bought them each one book of their choosing. When I returned to the main thoroughfare and began to look through the booths that were more my speed, I saw kids there too. Older ones to be sure, but they were tentatively looking at adult books, and it seemed as though they were trying to gauge if they were ready. If the jump was one they could make. Watching them all discover books they loved was more enjoyable than finding books for myself.
There is a moment in the beginning of LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring that I love very much. Gandalf is arriving for Bilbo’s birthday at the beginning of the movie, and he is talking to Frodo about Frodo’s suspicions that something is up with Bilbo. As they trundle down the road in the horse cart, the children from the nearby houses (holes?) come scampering out and run in a little cluster behind his wagon yelling “Gandalf! Gandalf!” When he doesn’t turn around or wave to them, they stop running and let out a despairing “awwww Gandalf?” and hang their heads. Frodo raises his eyebrow, Gandalf looks at him, and then suddenly a small display of fireworks bursts from the back of the wagon, and the children erupt into elated cheering and clapping. Frodo and Gandalf chuckle as they continue towards the town.
The way I feel every time those kids get excited about those fireworks is how I felt at that book fair, seeing kids get excited about books. Books are old friends that we can get excited about and will always provide us enjoyment, and for these children to learn this and for me to be able to see it happen in real time is like seeing Gandalf set off his fireworks to cheers. I’m old. I’m tired. There is so much darkness. But time should still be taken to bring joy to the young.
I wish I could go back and buy that whole table of Wimpy Kid books for those kids. Think of the fireworks!
Also, in case you were interested, I ended up buying two books for myself.
I wanted to get several more – a copy of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White was one of them, but the hard and fast truth was that there just isn’t enough money for me to buy books. The two I bought totaled $30, and thus were your November Patreon contributions spent. THANK YOU SWEET PATRONS, YOU MOVE ME TO PLACES I COULD NOT GO OTHERWISE. I AM SENDING YOU HUGS.
Tomorrow I’ll be attending a few author panels and attempting to get some books signed and then it’s back to Tampa. Keep your fingers crossed for me; the journey here was not kind. Let’s hope the journey home is smooth.