Stuart has been performing in libraries since 1984. He is a favorite library performer around the Midwest. His own love of reading and writing books, as well as his enthusiasm for libraries are apparent during his performances. Besides singing and telling stories, he talks about growing up reading, and watching and teaching his own children to read. It is an authentic opportunity to encourage children and their parents to return again and again to the library, to use its many resources.
Stuart has sung in hundreds of libraries, most often during Summer Reading programs. His performances are always participatory, fun, and filled with messages about the importance of reading. His song “At the Library” celebrates these important community institutions, and his book “Books in a Box” tells the story of Wisconsin Pioneer Librarian Lutie Stearns.
The Joys of Reading
Madison Public Library Newsletter, Fall 1998
I was rummaging through memorabilia a few years back, and I came across old report cards. I noticed that in my first semester of first grade, I had gotten a U. The grading scheme was different back then; U stood for Unsatisfactory. We would call it an F these days.
I was shocked. I had always thought of myself as an exceptional reader. I came from a family of readers and all through grade school and high school, I read constantly.
I guess I didn’t start out that way. I’m sure my parents were frantic that first semester at the thought that I wasn’t learning to read.
Somewhere soon after that, I guess it clicked for me. I remember my first grade teacher going over the phonics chart every morning with us. Our reading groups were named according to her perception of our abilities: the redbirds, the blue jays and (I’m not making this up) the goonsquad. She would regale us with stories of people who had learned to read driving by in red sports cars while the non-readers dug ditches. Maybe I learned to read out of fear.
Whatever the case, another first grade image is me, sitting at a table in the library with a stack of books. My mother tells me that the librarian is concerned that such a small boy won’t be able to read all those books. I assured her that I would. And I did.
I read under the covers, I read in cars, I read on Saturday mornings and through summer vacations. I read The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings in fourth grade and was totally immersed in a different world for two years straight.
Something from those years remains alive in me today, as I make my living telling stories and writing songs. I know how my time spent reading has shaped and continues to shape my work. Reading is partly about information, but more importantly about imagination. And, as Einstein said, “Imagination is more powerful than Knowledge.”
Fortunately, the joy of reading has never left me. It is true that the reading in our home plummeted when our daughters were young. But now, not only can we read in peace again, but we get to watch with incredible pleasure as both our girls discover reading for themselves. One reads at night, under the covers, with a flashlight. And she is in first grade.
I have always loved good novels. Right now my favorite author is Elizabeth Berg. She combines a great deal of emotional energy with humor and good pacing. Talk Before Sleep and Range of Motion are both great. Barbara Kingsolver is consistently good. I read a wonderful first novel called The Right Man for the Job by Mike Magnuson. I can also recommend A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, which is about life in India. Besides novels, I am currently reading books on sustainable forestry, solar energy and C. G. Jung’s idea about the shadow.
Libraries are great places for readers, of course. I use ours a lot. I also perform in them often. If I have extra time before or after a show, I get to read a while.
And there are times, between books for me and books for my daughters, that I almost expect a librarian to express a friendly concern about whether or not we will really read all of them. But I am sure we will.