Children's book struck a chord Favorite: Enoch Pratt Director Carla D. Hayden found many similarities between herself and the character in 'Bright April,' a groundbreaking story.

July 19, 1998|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Asked to recall her favorite book from when she was growing up, Enoch Pratt Free Library Director Carla D. Hayden's face lights up and, in a voice rich with adoration, she leans forward and offers, "Bright April."

Written in 1946 by Marguerite DeAngeli, the book was groundbreaking for its time because it was a story about a black girl. Hayden says she identified with April -- they were both skinny, wore their hair in pigtails, had a mailman in the family and belonged to a Brownie troop.

The biggest similarity was that they were both petite, sweet-faced black girls. "See, look," Hayden says, turning the pages of a copy from the Pratt's children's section. "I just said, 'Aw, this is me!' "

April encounters racism from another Brownie, Phyllis. But when the two girls have sleepovers together, Phyllis learns they have too much in common to be separated by racial differences. April concludes, "If she knew the truth about me, she'd like me in the first place."

Hayden, 45, says April's experiences are similar to those she had growing up in Illinois in the 1960s -- when instead of plentiful books featuring characters of color, there was "Little Black Sambo."

DeAngeli, the author of "Bright April," is white. But Hayden says the fact that DeAngeli was not black did not get in the way of her capturing the spirit of a loving black family -- through the words and the delicately rendered watercolor illustrations.

"I love it to this day," Hayden says. "I'd go around like this." She clutches the copy of "Bright April" to her chest. "This was my book."

Well not exactly. She borrowed it from the library so often back then, Hayden remembers, that her mother thought they owned it -- until the late fine notices came from the library, and her mother had to dock her 25-cent allowance to pay for it.

Years later, Hayden says, she found a copy of her beloved book at a secondhand bookstore and has it in her North Baltimore home.

Hayden, who has headed the Pratt system for five years, says she remains an avid reader, spending about an hour reading each night. She loves mysteries and biographies, and recently finished the latest P. D. James caper, "A Certain Justice."

She's saving Toni Morrison's "Paradise" for a special occasion. "That's going to be my treat," she says, adding that it is waiting on her bedside table with other novels she bought.

Bought? Not borrowed from her library?

"I think it's important to own books, too," she says. "You can keep it, it gives you the different relationship. You need many different experiences with reading."

She recounts a recent visit with an 8-year-old cousin in Chicago, and taking him to a bookstore -- after he balked at going to the local library.

"I said, 'How about the public library?' "

His answer: " 'Then you have to take it back.' "

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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