Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The World Book

If he's in law school (and sees the humor in an asymptote joke), it sounds like all that smart parenting paid off.

Any advice for a dad trying to raise knowledge-hungry little girls? 

I admit that I basked in the glow for a moment or two.  An accomplished man paid me a compliment and then he asked me for advice.  He's in the knowledge business himself and he's curious about my child rearing techniques in his bailiwick.  It felt good.

Flattery will get you everywhere, my friends.  It got him don't talk down to them, and read and expect them not to fear the big words or the long stories but all that came after I asked him the most important question: 
Do you have the World Book?
Growing up, it saved my academic career.  Sixth grade meant writing 6 paragraph essays every night on one of 5 topics or choose your own.  Research was done in the library or in your own home if your family had an encyclopedia.  Lots of my friends had The Encyclopedia Britannica.  Its onion-skin pages and over-sized volumes covered in tiny font with a British accent were anything but enticing.  Care had to be taken.

G'ma and Daddooooo took the more family friendly route, and bought us a set of red bound World Books.  I wished they'd paid for the white bindings, because they were much much prettier.  But, times and finances being what they were, the red ones sat on my lap as I typed biographies of presidents and artists and empires on my IBM Selectric.... a blue one.  

Every year the publishers sent us a Year Book.  They also sent us stickers so that we could cross-reference the articles in the main set to the Annuals.  The glue tasted awful and the perforations weren't worth much but I can't remember having more fun at home than when they arrived and had to be inserted.  

It was a treasure hunt, an expedition, a door opening into topics I'd never before considered.  I learned who had died and what had been invented.  The pages were bright white and the typeface was easy to read, even from the side as you were affixing a sticker and trying not to lose your place.  

When Big Cuter was a talking toddler and Little Cuter a still-countable-number-of-cells, the doorbell rang at our apartment.  This was a rare and unusual feat.  The building sat behind a video rental store, the entryway a narrow gap between the building and a very large parking garage 18" away, the buzzer around the corner and two steps in.  No one found us.  Pizza delivery was nearly impossible.  

Yet someone was ringing my bell.  He was selling World Books.  Walking door to door in the 1980's in Chicago.  He was truly down at the heels, a cobbler's delight.  Slim, black, early 30's, he talked to me through the locked door for 15 minutes before we decided to move him inside.  I'd seen the contents of his suitcase; there were no weapons inside.

He explained the payment options and the delivery choices and the value of the books themselves but I was barely listening.  I was watching another brick being mortared into the wall of my adulthood.  I was buying an encyclopedia for my family.

We moved those books from apartments to houses and from state to state.  I used the Human Body with its clear overlays to explain biology to Little Cuter, and TBG checks historical facts and dates and people without having to turn anything on.  But my favorite memories are of Big Cuter and the A book... the one that still, more than 2 decades later, falls open to Airplanes.  

It was no surprise to us that he loved Top Gun.  He'd been reading about and distinguishing between fighter planes since he was old enough to hold the book himself.  He went to Aviation Challenge and had no problems in the simulator; he recognized all the planes like the old friends they were.  He knew where they lived.

In the A book of The World Book.

It's a good way to raise smart kids.


  1. Ours were Encyclopedia Britannica, but they were used and useful during my K-12 years in just the same way as your World Book. I wish I still had them...

  2. My family had the red World Book. I am sure it was a sacrifice for my parents to buy it, but one for which I was always thankful. It came in handy for all the reports. Sometimes, just for the fun of it, I would take a volume off the shelf to see what I could learn. During my 9th grade World Geography class, I discovered I liked to draw maps. The World Book was a great source for drawing maps on a lazy summer afternoon. Today's electronic version doesn't have the same appeal, even with all the jazzy effects. But that probably has something to do with my age. :-)

  3. I had Britannica too, and used the heck out of them all through high school and college.

  4. We had a set of Colliers and I remember reading them for fun. It has paid off in spades. Now I troll wikipedia like a hound on the scent of last night’s stew bone. Couldn’t be happier either.

  5. I do admire my readers! Truly, I do. Where else would I find 4 people who read the encyclopedia for fun?

  6. OMG, we had those too. I was born in the late 60's and the ones we had must have been my mother's from when she was in high-school (they didn't have the moon landing). I always thought of them being really cool. Ours were white with burgundy binding. I remember them sitting on my parent's bookshelves for years.


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