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The hare and the tortoise


TC TO ANNA CURRY, director of the Enoch Pratt Library:

Dear Ms. Curry:

At some point in the next few days I will quietly leave a book at the desk of the central library on Cathedral Street.

It's a children's book, "The Hare and the Tortoise," based on the fable by La Fontaine, with wonderful pictures by Brian Wildsmith.

You know the tale: The hare and the tortoise were having an argument. The hare,who could run very fast, thought he was much more clever than the tortoise, who could only move slowly and had to carry his house around on his back.

To the hare's surprise, the tortoise challenged him to a race. "We will run from here, over the hill, through the hedge, then along the carrot field to the old cart," he said. The hare laughed. "I am sure to win," he said, "but we will race if you like."

News of the race spread quickly, and the birds and animals gathered to watch. "The tortoise won't have a chance!" cried the fox. "Wait and see," said the wise old owl.

Well, Ms. Curry, we all know what happened. The race started, and while the tortoise trudged along slowly and steadily, the hare stopped to eat the leaves in the hedge and then the carrots in the field. He ate and ate until he was so full he had to lie down and sleep.

Encouraged by the birds, the tortoise passed the sleeping hare and approached the finish line. The hare woke up and stared in astonishment toward the old cart. There was the tortoise! The hare ran as fast as he could, but it was no use. The tortoise had won the race.

All the animals gathered round the tortoise while he told how, in his slow and steady way, he had won the race from the quick and careless hare.

Now why am I dropping this book at your library? The fact of the matter is that the book is "hot;" this June it will be 20 years $H overdue at the Baltimore County Public Library. My wife borrowed the book in 1971, when my son was 4 years old. We took it on a short trip to Pennsylvania, and it fell under my son's bed. The library, of course, informed us it was overdue, but we thought we had returned it and insisted that the library had made a mistake. The library believed and forgave. A few weeks later, the book arrived in the mail. "Did your son leave it?" asked our Pennsylvania host in a note enclosed with the volume. Embarrassed, we put the book aside and never returned it.

We found it the other day while doing some holiday cleaning. I want you to have it and not return it to the county. (After all, it hasn't been missed for two decades.) It will assuage my guilt -- can you imagine the accumulated fine I'd have to pay? -- and, besides, I hear you need books. Your budget has been cut cruelly, and you are closing five branches in March unless some miracle happens.

And this is the kind of book you need most, a classic children's fable that should appeal to the children of a city where school library budgets, too, have been slashed.

The Pratt, according to reporter James Bock's article in last Sunday's Sun, is a library "unable to give people the books they want when they want them." It's not a very flashy place. It's kind of a plodder. You can get a manual for a 1937 Ford at the Pratt but not at a Baltimore County library. Baltimore County stocks up on Danielle Steel potboilers, but you won't find -- and will at the Pratt -- 1939 U.S. Senate hearing transcripts. Charles Robinson, the county library director, is a mercurial fellow whose "give-'em-what-they-want" philosophy has made him a national figure in library circles, "one of the great innovators of our time," according to John W. Berry, editor in chief of Library Journal.

I know, Ms. Curry, that the county librarians have been having their own budget problems, but I think the Pratt needs "The Hare and the Tortoise" more than they. Take it, with my compliments. Circulate it in one of the threatened branches. See if the kids check it out. If Robinson comes after me for the fine, I'll deal with it.

Mike Bowler edits this page.

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