The school year of 1978-1979 was a defining time for me. I was in second grade at a school that no longer exists in Newhall, West Virginia. Corporal punishment in the schools hadn't yet been outlawed in West Virginia, and wouldn't be until 1994. I had a teacher who was particularly liberal with her use of the ping-pong paddle, and would sometimes hold sessions where she'd tell us to tattle on each other, and then would paddle the guilty parties in front of the whole class. She paddled me once-- I was sitting at my desk, daydreaming, and I didn't hear her tell me to get out my spelling book. When my mom complained to the school superintendent, he told her, "The system can be hard for sensitive children like your daughter."*
During that year, I went from loving school to dreading it. I coped by looking forward to the time when I could go home and read. I also played with my brothers and my dolls, but stories were what kept me going. One evening, on NPR, I heard a program on the radio called "The Spider's Web." It was a program that featured children's books read by one or more narrators. These were the words to the theme song**:
There's a web like a spider's web
Made of silver light and shadows
Spun by the moon in my room at night
It's a web made to catch a dream
Hold it tight 'til I awaken
As if to tell me my dream is all right
I started to listen to the program every night, and would get snippy if anyone tried to talk to me during that half-hour. During that hard second grade year, I was introduced to books like The Phantom Tollbooth, Strawberry Girl, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Daughter of the Moon, and The Wind in the Willows (though that was the one book I didn't like it at the time).
I also heard an original story called "Raspberries," by Jay O'Callahan. The story was about a baker named Simon who had fallen on hard times after his business partner ran off with the profits. Simon's life changes for the better when he finds magical raspberries that make the eater leap up in the air and sing out, "Raspberries!" I loved that story. I forgot who had told it, and later on, went looking for it thinking that it was a folktale.*** Even though I had only heard the story once, I talked about it quite a bit, and often sang out "Raspberries!" then fall into fits of giggles.
I don't know when "The Spider's Web" went off the air, because we moved from West Virginia to Maryland, and I stopped listening to the radio so much. Some time later, Rabbit Ears Radio showed up. Now, audiobooks for children are in great proliferation, and perhaps there isn't the need anymore for these old radio programs. I am grateful that "The Spider's Web" was there when I needed it most.
*10 pm Update: My mom said she actually called the superintendant because I was upset over another child being paddled. I think my own paddling must have come later in the year.
**Author is unknown to me-- let me know if you know, so I can provide proper attribution. I found a recording of the song on iTunes by a band called The Holt Twins.
***During my first year as a librarian, I finally found a copy of the story on cassette through the newly-launched Amazon.com. Fortunately, Jay O'Callahan has a website now, and you can order the story here if you are interested.