All About Books: Aja Martin
Aja Martin is the manager of Indigo Bridge Books and Café in Lincoln.
Listen to Aja's All About Books:
The summer between third and fourth grade, my grandmother bought me a small box of books at a garage sale. This might not seem like a big deal, they were just a handful of used copies. But we didn’t have a ton of money growing up. And for birthdays I asked for new toys instead of more enriching choices. I think that made me a fairly normal kid.
There was something magical about that box of books though. I had maybe a half dozen Baby-Sitter’s Club books in there and I devoured them. I hadn’t ever read anything for school with the focus and determination that I read those first few books. I had to get more. Thank god it was such a long series. I had to know what else happened, because those girls had become like friends.
See, I had no idea that words could do that. A good story can introduce you to a character as though they were a real person. The Babysitter’s Club series did that. And it changed my life.
The beginning of the series has 5 best friends who put together a company. They work together, they sometimes fight together, and they are there for each other through all the ups and downs of childhood. And from a storytelling standpoint, they were all individuals, with distinct personalities, and because of that, I discovered that I could learn about life through fiction.
I didn’t have any practical knowledge about diabetes, but Stacey had juvenile diabetes, so I was suddenly aware that there were kids my age who could very well have medical difficulties. Claudia made a mistake, and everyone took sides, but they figured out how to talk through the hurt feelings. Mary-Anne and Dawn became step-siblings, and were able to articulate several things I’d not realized were reflected in my own blended family.
And I think it’s important to consider that these are emotional steps that children are taking at the elementary level. You don’t realize it while it’s happening, but school is about so much more than just memorizing numbers or grammar. And we owe it to each generation to make sure that schools continue to focus on more than just that, because it makes us more complete people.
I found books at a time when everything was topsy-turvy. I grew four inches, my dad got remarried, school was starting again and my best friend wasn’t in my class. But books served as guide posts, as lights along a path, and I got through the other side. In retrospect, it makes me grateful that The Arts were such a large part of my education. I very much believe it’s important to remember the emotional impact of this time period.
More than just the emotional benefits, though, was just the sheer fact that I was reading at a time when doing so could most expand my mind. I finished third grade as an average student. I started fourth grade and was immediately transferred into the advanced classes. I had moved too far forward in the way I thought about things to be able to take a normal track.
I don’t know if I was ever able to properly share how grateful I am to my grandmother. She was the one who started me on that path. She gave me actual, physical objects that belonged to me. Owning books marks us as readers and that changes how we view things. This is both in terms of ourselves, but also in how we see the world around us. It certainly changed my priorties, as I switched out new titles instead of toys for holidays. I haven’t once regreted it.
It got me to where I am right now. I work surrounded by books and I dedicate a lot of my time to nonprofit work. Now I get to help put them into the hands of a child that couldn’t otherwise get any. I was once that kid and a handful of books absolutely made a difference. Books changed me and I feel like every day I get the chance to offer that to someone else. I get to help change the world.