Monear Fatemi was on the hunt for a children’s book she loved as a kid in the 1980s. She remembered so many vivid details: the family in the book ate lima beans, the father had a bushy mustache, the cat was called “Dog”. She remembered every detail, it seemed, except the title and the author.
Fatemi, a former English teacher, says she was eager to find this particular title for her 2-year-old daughter because it meant so much to her when she was growing up. Fatemi is half Persian and says she rarely saw people of color portrayed in books or on television at the time.
“The illustrator may or may not have tried to show the diversity in the book, but the dad looks like my dad and the brother looks like my brother and the mom looks like my mom,” she says. “It’s a black and white illustrated book, but I saw my Persian father and brother in this book, and I never saw my family [in other books]. “
Eager to see how the book had aged, noting that many contemporary children’s books symbolize rather than normalize diversity, Fatemi enlisted the help of her mother, who works as a research librarian. They typed search terms into Google and scoured the shelves of their local bookstore to no avail.
Then Fatemi’s mother sent her the link to an Instagram page called My Old Books, which mostly shared fancy illustrations from vintage children’s books.
There were also notes from other people trying to find beloved childhood books based on a handful of hazy, feverish dream-like details. Other book enthusiasts made their voices heard in the comments, throwing in the names of the authors, jumping in with details, tagging their friends – and celebrating when a match was made.
Fatemi wrote with his request. Within 20 minutes of the post’s publication, she had her response:Tight moments by Barbara Shook Hazen and Trina Schart Hyman. She says her entire family was moved to tears at the discovery.
“These books and stories penetrate us and mean so much,” says Fatemi. “They are so important and mean the world to us, and someone else is like, ‘Oh yeah, that one! “And so quickly, we can help someone heal wounds, make connections – so many cool things come to mind.”
Looking back, Fatemi realized how much this book had changed his perception of reading in general.
“It was like, maybe I don’t see myself in my neighborhood or in my school or on cable TV or anywhere that doesn’t just show Middle Easterners as terrorists,” she says. . “It wasn’t ‘Here’s a book about a Middle Eastern family in America.’ Here’s just a book, and you can see yourself in it. And that meant a lot. “
Fatemi calls this an important part of her teaching philosophy – she says she has given a lot of thought to who was in her class and how they may or may not see their lived experiences reflected in the program – and now her parenting philosophy. . So finding the book that started it all was, at least for her, no easy feat.
“Social media has its pros and cons, but I was like, ‘Is this person who is crowdsourcing to help nerds make their dreams come true cool? Said Fatemi.
Some of the book seekers have fond, albeit fuzzy, memories of stories they would like to read to their own young children. Others are looking for books that their friends or family remember, often to give as gifts. Many are motivated by sentimental value, such as someone looking for a copy of a book that burned down in a fire in their grandparents’ house.
The details provided in these requests range from specific to vague and may include a particular quote, a set of particular plot details, or general recollections of the illustration style, cover, or general principle. Many people say that they have been trying to find these books for years, if not decades.
The What’s ThatBook series, which is part of My Old Books, has published some 115 such requests since its launch in February, with a success rate of just over 50%. It is according to Marie-Pascale Traylor, the locomotive behind the page.
She built a community around a shared sentimental interest
Traylor traces his love of reading back to his own childhood. Traylor’s family did not have televisions, so she and her siblings would consult stacks of library books and read all the time.
She grew up to be an artist and a preschool teacher, with a particular fondness for vintage children’s books – like anything prior to 1990, but ideally much earlier.
During his more than two decades of teaching, Traylor has amassed his own library of children’s books at thrift stores, antique stores and yard sales. But she didn’t just keep them to herself. She created an Instagram account about five years ago to share images of her favorite vintage books and opened an Etsy store when she retired several years later to sell some of her collection.
“I felt like that by sharing something that was just a strong interest, I would find other people who had the same kind of interest,” she explains.
Traylor’s account has taken off – she cites a few celebrities who have followed her or reposted photos, like Amy Sedaris and illustrator Mary Engelbreit – as has her virtual community.
People contacted him to order books, sent him gifts, and occasionally asked him to research specific titles. Traylor finally realized that maybe others on Instagram could help her: She now has over 24,000 followers.
She started sharing requests on her account last winter, using the hashtag “What’sThatBook”. The requests – and the responses – have poured in.
Some of these interactions are particularly memorable for Traylor, especially those that end in success.
She cites two recent examples: someone looking to surprise their grandfather on his 90th birthday with a book he loved as a child (Andrew Lang’s Fairy Series) and another poster finally finding the title of one of her favorite childhood Christmas books to read to her 5-year-old daughter (Hilary Knight’s The Twelve Days of Christmas).
Successful Book Seekers Want to Advance Their Powerful Experiment
And Traylor’s success stories don’t hesitate to share what the site has meant to them.
Tanner Flippo, now 27, posted about a book he vaguely remembered from fourth grade – so vaguely, in fact, that he wasn’t sure he made up the story or made it up. ‘to have evoked in a dream. But he knew it was a girl with magical powers learning to fly, and he knew he had been enchanted by it at the time.
Commentators have directed him to No theft in the house by Betty Brock. Revisiting the book, Flippo says it helped explain his long-held interests in fantasy worlds and personal development – and was “a small but key piece of the puzzle” in his personal journey of growth and healing from trauma.
Jane Garabedian knew exactly why she was looking for her book, which featured charcoal illustrations of forest creatures that traverse the cozy winter to emerge into the bright yellow spring. She says she read the book several times as a child and gives it credit for igniting her love of reading and wildlife.
She reached out to Traylor, who said she would look around. “Luckily, is this the book Happy day“?, Traylor texted weeks later.
Garabedian says she immediately felt transported to herself at age 4, the age she was when she learned to sign her name in order to get her first library card.
“[Traylor] I think it changed my life in one day … it was driving me crazy not to remember something that was important and she put her finger on it and she went out of her way to do it, “said Garabedian.
Garabedian and Fatemi, among others, now hope to pay it forward by helping other people find their beloved childhood books.
Traylor reflects on the emotion and connection that accompany these discoveries.
“There’s just a lot of sentimental nostalgia that goes with it,” she says. “I can really feel the thrill when they text me after finding their book … and they’re so happy and so grateful and it’s so sweet.”
Traylor didn’t expect the crowdsourcing series to take off like she did, but says she’s grateful for it.
“I feel like a lot of social media is negative these days, and people turn around so easily,” she says. “I like the way my overall flow seems really positive, and people are supporting me and encouraging us, and they love talking about these things with each other. So I think that’s a little escape, maybe. to be, of everything that is happening. in their lives. “
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