Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile

by Gloria Houston; ill. by Susan Condie Lamb

HarperCollins, 2011

32 pages

I love books about books. Or, perhaps more accurately, I love books about people who love books.

Partly, I’m just a book geek. Books have been my prime object of fascination since I was a preschooler. It’s not just about the reading–it’s about the experience of holding a book and turning the pages, the craft of book design and bookmaking, the process writers and illustrators go through to create their books.

I’m also always on the lookout for fellow bibliophiles. I like to discuss plot lines and themes and story conflicts the way sports fans discuss spectacular Super Bowl or World Series plays. My upper-division college lit classes were my personal idea of utopia. But bibliophiles, always a rare species, seem to be getting even rarer, so I appreciate the fictional ones almost as much as I do the real thing.

I also love books about readers because they help to validate reading as a worthwhile pursuit. When I was a kid, often picked on for being a “bookworm,” books about readers helped me feel less alone. They reinforced my reading instinct, showed me that I wasn’t crazy to find reading fun or rewarding.

Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile, based on the real-life story of librarian Dorothy Thomas, is the perfect book for a lonely bookworm–or any other girl who loves books and reading.

The title character, Dorothy Thomas, is a book lover of the highest order. From childhood, she dreams of being a librarian. She earns the requisite degrees, but then finds herself living in a rural North Carolina town with no library. What’s a smart, ambitious bibliogirl to do?

Enter Miss Dorothy’s book-loving neighbors. Over her objections–she insists that a library must be a brick-and-mortar building–they raise money for a bookmobile and appoint her to run it. For years, she drives the bookmobile around the Blue Ridge Mountains where she lives.

Then, finally, an appreciative reader donates a small house to serve as a permanent library. The townspeople renovate it and donate books to fill it, and Miss Dorothy settles in. She wins awards; reporters come to interview her; and readers who have grown up and moved away send back letters expressing their love for her and the books she shared with them.

I love this book for many reasons. There’s Miss Dorothy’s trailblazing spirit–the vast majority of women of her generation didn’t even attend college, let alone earn graduate degrees–and her toughness (she drives her bookmobile through blizzards and floods). There are Gloria Houston’s spare, lyrical text and Susan Condie Lamb’s gentle but lively watercolors. Houston beautifully captures the everyday drama and humor of Miss Dorothy’s life; Lamb offers a window on Miss Dorothy’s ebullient personality and the townspeople’s helpful and exuberant spirits.

But the greatest inspiration in this picture book is in yet another place. I’ve written before about the importance of teaching girls how to triumph through failure. Miss Dorothy’s story teaches a related lesson: how to bloom where you’re planted.

The reality is that our girls’ lives won’t necessarily turn out the way they expect. Marriage, children, illness, tragedy, an inspiring encounter, recognition of a need–these are just some of the reasons our girls may end up in unexpected places or among unexpected people.

And what does a strong, creative girl or woman do in those circumstances? She does a Miss Dorothy. She’s honest with herself about any sadness or loss, but then she seizes the opportunity to fulfill her dream in a new way–or even finds an entirely new dream.

In other words, she lives life as it really is: ever-changing, sometimes full of twists of turns, but always with the potential for fulfillment if you know where to look. And, as Miss Dorothy’s story shows, in doing so she’s likely to inspire the next generation to do the same.

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