[Libs-Or] NPR story about wonderful effect of a librarian on a teenage boy

Peyton Stafford peyton at peytonstafford.com
Fri Oct 2 13:14:16 PDT 2009

This is really a great story. It shows that librarians' work really can make
a huge difference in people's lives.

-- Peyton Stafford

*Boy Lifts Book; Librarian Changes Boy's Life*

October 2, 2009

Olly Neal grew up in Arkansas during the 1950s. He didn't care much for high
school. One day during his senior year, he cut class — and wandered into the
school library.

As he told his daughter, Karama, recently, he stumbled onto a book written
by African-American author Frank
And the discovery changed the life of a teenage boy who was, in Neal's
memory, "a rather troubled high school senior."

The book was *The Treasure of Pleasant Valley* — and it had an alluring
cover, especially for a teenage boy.

Neal remembers it being "risque — a drawing of a woman who appeared to be
wearing something that was basically see-through. But the symbolism was
really great for me at that age of 16."

There was just one problem: If Neal took the book to the checkout counter,
he was sure that the girls who worked on the counter would tell his friends.

"Then my reputation would be down, because I was reading books," Neal said.
"And I wanted them to know that all I could do was fight and cuss."

Finally, Neal decided that he ought to steal the book, in order to preserve
his reputation. So he did.

A week or two later, Neal had finished the book — so he brought it back to
the library, careful to replace it in the same spot he had found it.

"And when I put it back, there was another book by Frank Yerby," Neal said.

"So I thought, 'Maybe I'll read that, too.' So I took it under my jacket,"
Neal said.

"Later, I brought it back, and there was — by God, there was another book by
Frank Yerby. So I took it."

He read four of Yerby's books that semester — checking out none of them.

But Neal's sneaky behavior turned out not to have been so sneaky after all.

Attending his 13-year high school reunion, Neal ran into the school's
librarian, Mildred Grady. She had seen him trying to steal *The Treasure of
Pleasant Valley* years ago.

"She told me that she saw me take that book when I first took it," Neal

"She said, 'My first thought was to go over there and tell him, boy, you
don't have to steal a book, you can check them out — they're free.'

"Then she realized what my situation was — that I could not let anybody know
I was reading."

Grady told Neal she decided that if he was showing an interest in books,
"she and Mrs. Saunders would drive to Memphis and find another one for me to
read — and they would put it in the exact same place where the one I'd taken

So, every time Neal decided to take a book home, the pair would set off to
the city to find another book for him.

"You've got to understand that this was not an easy matter then — because
this is 1957 and '58," Neal said. "And black authors were not especially
available, No. 1. And No. 2, Frank Yerby was not such a widely known author.
And No. 3, they had to drive all the way to Memphis to find it."

But the women's efforts paid off: Neal went on to attend law school and
later became a judge, retiring as an appellate judge of the Arkansas Court
of Appeals.

When Grady died, her son asked Neal to tell everyone gathered for her
funeral the story of how the librarian nurtured his reading habit as a

"I credit Mrs. Grady for getting me in the habit of enjoying reading, so
that I was able to go to law school and survive," Neal said.

John Martucci
National Sales Manager
Enslow Publishers, Inc. - www.enslow.com
40 Industrial Road, PO Box 398
Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922
800-398-2504 (ext 328)
908-771-0925 (fax)
201-362-3846 (cell)

"I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him
*." – Galileo
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