Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Siddie Joe Johnson – My First Librarian

My sister taught me to read before I went to school, and I was totally won over by the magic of books.
Then when I was eight she got a job in the children's department at the downtown Dallas library.  My other sister and I attended the Creative Writing Club Siddie Joe Johnson, the children’s head librarian, started there. I was thrilled to twice win story writing contests – the awards were books.  One of my prizes was The Innocent Wayfaring, by Marchette Chute (with decorations by the author, hand-colored by me!)  It’s still a favorite.

A published poet, Miss J also wrote little poems for the club members.  I still remember mine…


Diane, the gypsy princess
In whose eyes the dark light shines,
dances, flames and dies.

Diane, the laughing one
No lovelier than wise.

I was so impressed -- I fancied being a gypsy!  I also felt honored, because I was in awe of Miss J.

Before we left Dallas, Miss J took us three sisters to lunch and on a tour of the great new cavernous library just finished, and not yet open to the public.  It was sad, in a way, because we loved the old library, now gone, and we would not get to be part of the new one.  Miss J had arranged a job for my sister in the Los Angeles library, which we would come to know and love.  There would be many more libraries for us to fall in love with and more wonderful librarians to meet.  But we have remembered Miss Johnson fondly and with great respect, for her kindness, talent and wonderful work as a librarian.

Now, years later, I've learned Siddie Joe Johnson is legendary in Texas.

The Dallas Public Library has an impressive Siddie Joe Johnson Children's Literature Collection which includes original illustrations and rare first editions.  Miss J was an award-winning librarian and children's book author as well as a published poet, editor and teacher.  She worked to encourage children to read and love the telling of stories.  The Texas Library Association has established an award for children's librarians, as well as one for children's literature, in her honor.

She was also a lovely lady and a wonderful mentor and friend.  Miss J was a great influence in my life.  I already wanted to be an artist.  Due to her influence my world opened up even more.  Perhaps I could also be this wonderful thing – an author!

5 comments:

  1. What a lovely story. How wonderful to have had Miss J as a mentor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Megan! She was a definite influence!

      Delete
  2. When I was little, my mother, brother and I lived next door to Miss Johnson. She wrote a poem for each of us that was published around 1964 or 65. This past weekend I was going through some old things my Mom put away for me and I found several cards she had written little stories in and signed. I also have a picture of her with my brother and me in the library. I've been looking for her for years and only this weekend realized I was spelling her first name wrong. I am so happy to be able to read about her. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I was going through a box of pictures and momentos my mother gave me a few weeks ago from my childhood. I found 4 or 5 cards from Miss Johnson. She was our next door neighbor when I was about 3. There is a photo of my brother and me taken with her at the public library for a newspaper article. Two poems in her book Feather in My Hand were written about us. Until I moved back to the DFW area, I didn't know much about her. I am so glad to be able to look further into it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for your comments! I so enjoyed learning of your experiences with Miss J. I've heard from another gentleman who remembers her fondly from the writing club. I wish I had known her longer. I believe she influenced the lives of many, many children -- either to become writers, to be lifelong lovers of books or simply by her kindness.... It would be wonderful to have a photo of Miss J! Which poems in Feather in My Hand are 'yours'?

    ReplyDelete