Volcanoes, Dead People and Other Things We Learned from Library Books


My son reading books about volcanoes at the library in Nacogdoches, TX. “I want to go to the library and get books about volcanoes.”

My son is holding my hand; we’ve just left a doctor appointment and we’re walking to the car. We’re supposed to pick up the baby from my mother-in-law’s house. We’re supposed to go grocery shopping. What we do, instead, is drop everything and go to the library.

This will be our first real library trip. I’ve taken him to the library before, when he was much younger, for children’s story time. He climbed, he yelled, he giggled loudly. He cared nothing for books or quiet. I have not taken him to the library in two years.

“I want to read about volcanoes and Hawaii.”

I’ve been asking him to go to the library with me over the past few weeks. He always says no. Today, at the doctor’s office, he saw a travel magazine with a surfer riding a big wave, the word Hawaii emblazoned across the cover. “What’s that?” he asked, “I want to read that.”

In the car, on the way to the library, he says he wants to read about lava melting a town and all the people in it.

Wait. What?

…Okay. He must have learned about Pompeii. I can work with Pompeii.

As we walk through the front doors, I remind him that the library is a quiet place. He must whisper.

“OK,” he whispers.

We turn the corner, into the kids section. We walk past the board books and the story books and the wordy books that I swore he wouldn’t sit through. We walk right into the kid’s reference book section. I don’t know if that’s what it’s called, but that’s what it is. Books about weather and butterflies and bones and volcanoes, with big words and bright photographs and games inside.

This is a new world for both of us.

We find the dinosaurs and the body parts sections, and finally, with the help of a librarian, we find the volcanoes section. We find the volcanoes books. Charlie takes them to a table and sits down. He intently “reads the pictures”. He flips the pages like he’s Bastian looking for the ending of The Neverending Story.

Volcanoes aren’t a new obsession. We talk about Hawaii and volcanoes all the time. We talk about lava tubes and read the Magic School Bus volcano book. He perpetually pretends that he might fall into lava at any moment, jumping from color to color on any flooring that displays multiple colors.

We gather our books, the volcano books, the Hawaii book and the dinosaur book, even a bones book, and make our way to the check out desk. We pass a book on the bottom shelf, “Greatest Natural Disasters” and grab that too.

Except “Greatest Natural Disasters” is not a kids’ book. It does not have big words and bright pictures and games inside. It’s got black and white photographs of disasters. Dead people. Bombs. Crashes. And, as I stop to talk to a friend, my son sits down and begins to page through “Greatest Natural Disasters.” After a moment, he asks, “Mommy, mommy mommy, what’s wrong with that man?”

THIS is the moment I realize the difference between Greatest Natural Disasters and Volcanoes, Volcanoes, Volcanoes!

My son is looking at a picture of the Johnstown flood of 1889, featuring a dead person.

Library: 1, Mom: 0.

“I don’t know,” I say. “He looks hurt.” I look at my friend and loudly whisper that the man is probably dead. Charlie hears me.

“He’s probably dead?” he asks.

“… Yup. Let’s go. Let’s put this book up. It’s not for kids.”

As we walk toward the book drop, my son asks, “Is dead, dying? Is dying, dead?”

I realize this is funny in a sitcom kind of way, like if I watched Larry David take a neighbor kid to the library and this happened, it would be really funny and the catchy music playing in the background would emphasize the humor. But mostly, I feel anxiety. I want to know when he will stop asking about dead people.  My in-laws dog died last year. We’ve discussed dying and heaven and God, but I really don’t want to discuss the victims of Pompeii or the Johnstown flood of 1889.

My son asks SO MANY questions. I anticipated continuous questions about dead people following the great library trip of 2016, which was two weeks ago. He is still very interested in volcanoes. He still wants to know about Pompeii. He wants to know why God sent the asteroid to kill the dinosaurs, which is a question that originated while reading one of our other library books, The Magic School Bus: In the Time of the Dinosaurs. He wants to know if there are any volcanoes near our town and if people still know a volcano is a volcano if it is covered in snow.

At least he hasn’t asked about the dead guy again. #blessings.