To the Book Thief
This poem was read at our Eightieth Birthday celebration by visitor Alex Mankowitz. Its pertinence is that it was apparently read aloud at the opening of the Library in 1934.
Please read this wonderful emotive narrative, courtesy of Alex. Many thanks to her!
Would you snatch a book from my boy’s hands,
As he sat pulling apart each word, limb from limb,
Stumbling on phonics, cuddled against my breast?
Would you prise his little paws off the cover,
Ignore his baffled screams, my tearful pleas as you
Peel away bendy fingers, made sticky by a day’s play?
Would you snatch it if snatching made it tear,
Left him grasping a crumpled cover, bereft,
While you walk away triumphant, dropping pages like a trail?
Just how far would you go?
How about the books already in his head,
The bedtime stories lovingly tethered to his soul;
Would you steal those too? Why let them be?
Because you know, books are not like bees.
They don’t lie down and die after a single sting, nor fizzle out
like a match that burns to a searing stub at your fingers.
No. When you steal a book you steal it again and again.
You steal it from every child whose face ever pressed up
Against a rainy window pane, bored and poor and trapped.
You lock him in, in a way that no wall ever could.
You set up fences he can’t even see, burn ladders he didn’t know he had.
And you do it to his children and his children’s children.
That is what you are doing to us.
So I say: steal my baby’s books if you dare,
But first look at him, look at his big brown eyes,
And tell him what you’re going to do.
Say to him: Child, I am taking from you this book
that you are reading.
Say: Child, forget these pictures.
Say: Child, snuff out those rhymes.
And tell him: Don’t ask me what happens next.
There are no more pages to turn.
Because: Child, this is the end.
Then sing to him:
Lavender’s blue dilly dilly,
I stole your books, dilly dilly
Cos I am mean.
Call up your men, dilly dilly
Call up your crooks,
Some to build pyres, dilly dilly
Some to burn books
Some to break glass, dilly dilly
Some to crush bricks,
While me and mine, dilly dilly
Still get our kicks.
Then take a long look at his big brown eyes.
And see, just how much you are taking from us.