Volume 12, Issue 12 ~ March 18-24, 2004

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Burton on the Bay
by Bill Burton

Not Just for Kids

Cave ab homine unius libri.

Depending on how one figures what the originator of those five words meant, it can be good advice. No one knows, nor will ever know for sure, seeing no one knows who first wrote them. All we know is that they were quoted by Isaac D’Israeli in Curiosities of Literature in 1791-1793.

I hope the fourth-grade students of teacher Lucy Carter, all 29 of them, at Deale Elementary School will accept my apologies. I know only one of those curious words can possibly be familiar to you, and that’s cave. We all know what cave means.

But know what? Cave doesn’t mean a hole in the rocks in this instance. Fourth graders, all those other words are Latin, and not pig latin, real Latin, a language of long, long ago. Isaac D’Israeli was a writer who discovered them more than a hundred years ago, then figured what they meant in English and added them to a book he was writing.

Cave in Latin doesn’t mean a place where bears hibernate or where Tom Sawyer and his friend Becky Thatcher got lost. In Latin, Cave means beware, and all those funny and unusual words when translated mean this:

“Beware of the man of one book.”

To My Usual Readers
Before we go any further, let me inform my usual readers that this week’s column is for kids, kids of the kind Dr. Seuss wrote for. I visited their classroom on the 100th anniversary of Dr. Seuss’ birth. Fathers, mothers, grandparents or other relatives are welcome to keep on reading this column, but I promised the kids if they were good students, I’d write about them in this newspaper this week; I’d even mention their names.
Kids, This Is for You
Kids, you were good. Over the years I’ve spoken at many hundreds of schools all over Maryland and some other states, too, and you were among the best class I’ve ever visited. A promise is a promise, and seeing that you were that good, it’s up to me to keep my promise. Older people can turn the page and read something else if they want. This week this space is for the students of Lucy Carter’s fourth-grade reading class at Deale Elementary, a great school with great students and great teachers where I had fun.

Solving the Riddle
With that said, let’s try to figure what Beware of the man of one book means. Does it mean beware of the man who only has or reads one book? Or does it mean beware of the man who hasn’t done or seen enough in this world to write more than one book?

Before you read any farther, stop and think about that. What do you think it means? Don’t ask for help. Try to figure it out.

Okay, time’s up. You can start reading again, and I’ll tell you what it means to me. I can’t really know what the original and unknown writer meant; he was dead long before I was born. Remember, television wasn’t even around when I was your age.

But I think that unknown writer meant both beware of a man who has only read one book and beware of the man who has seen and done only enough to write but one book. And it goes for both men and women.

Think of it this way. Today, most women and men write and read an awful lot. If he or she has only read one book — or only owns one book — he or she is missing out on a lot of good reading. Right? And if he or she has only seen or done enough to be able to write one book, he or she has lived an awfully dull life. Right?

Books Make Good Friends
I’m an old man, and I have talked in schools to many thousands of students from kindergarten to college. But I must say reading to you on Read Across America Day was among the most fun I’ve had visiting students. I’ll tell you why.

Almost all of you raised your hands when I asked who watched television a lot. That worried me for a moment, though you’ll remember I told you I was on TV for 16 years.

But when I asked who had read a book or newspaper outside the classroom, again almost all of you raised your hands. That made me feel so good I no longer worried about all you TV watchers.

In the thank-you bag with the Cat In The Hat picture on it that the school gave me as I was leaving there was a bookmark that showed a student, a book and two pyramids. Off to the side there were these words: “Books Take You There.” Let me add this: Books Take You Everywhere.

Remember, I read about Jimmy the Skunk from The Burgess Book of Natural Lore by Thornton Burgess. I asked you to picture in your young minds what was going on. Well, I’ll bet that, seeing as there were 29 of you, there were 29 different scenes pictured in your minds. That’s why books and newspapers, magazines and other publications are so much fun to read.

You don’t need pictures like on TV, or sounds like on radio. A book lets you see and hear yourself what’s going on. That’s good. Reading not only helps you learn new and more words. It also helps you learn to think. Readers don’t need a television tube to tell them what’s going on. Isn’t it more fun to imagine in your mind the picture all those words mean? That’s called imagination, and the better your imagination gets, the better you will become at appreciating and understanding all the new things you see as you get older … even older than I am.

Someday your imagination might be so good that you can write books yourself, and that’s even more fun than reading them.

I’ll bet the kids in other classes had as much fun as you when they listened to the stories of county councilman Ed Riley; legislative assistant Joyce Maloney; fishing captains Jim Brincefield, Frank Carver and Alex Williams; Louie, the mascot of the Bowie Bay Sox: police officer Don Clime; firefighter Wiseman; writer Mick Blackistone; Helen Junkin; and Lt. Col. Randy Broussard of the Naval Academy and his assistant, Midshipman Jeanne Cameron.

For all of them, reading is fun, and the older you get, the more fun it is. Every book is different than the one you read before. You can put a book or other publication down when you’re called, then return and start reading again later. You can’t do that all the time with television, can you?

Here You Are
Thanks again for a great day Ryle, Annika, Jenna, Austin, Alicia, Emma, Katie, Samantha, Rachel, Ben, James L, James W, Kelly, Keller, Tyler, Darren, Judith, Harrison, David, Sierra, Summer, Nick, Kenny, Allyson, Ian (your writing almost fooled me — I thought it was Ion), Brian and all four Matthews: Matthew R, Matthew N, and both Matthews whose last names begin with C.

We don’t need last names; we’re friends, right? And friends are important. You can share books, tell each other what you’ve read about places you might want to go some day or things you might want to do. You can learn how to cast a bait for a big fish or how to plan a wedding. And when the electricity goes down, you can still read — at least during the daytime. Enough said …

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Last updated March 18, 2004 @ 2:00am.