Way back in grade school, once or twice a year, we would receive these little sheets from Scholastic (like above), which featured a selection of their book catalog. I suppose this was a pre-internet way of marketing and selling books directly to children. I loved those sheets and would study them, reading all the book summaries, and circling the ones I wanted with a ball-point pen. I know a lot of kids have good memories of going through the Toys-R-Us catalog before Christmas and similarly choosing what they wanted Santa to bring them, but for me it was all about the Scholastic book orders. (Toys just weren't a big deal in my house.)
My Mom was great and would, within budgetary reason, order whatever I circled as well as any other books she thought I might enjoy. The Secret Garden comes to mind as one of her excellent choices.
Anyway, by the time I was in 5th grade, I was no less obsessed with the Scholastic book order. There was always a pretty significant lag, maybe of a few months, between when your parents' submitted your order and when you actually received the books. Scholastic sent them to the classroom in one big box for the teacher to distribute to the students.
One of the consequences of this lag was that you pretty much forgot what it was that you had even ordered until he received it on that exciting day. When the box came to my 5th grade classroom it was was noticeably smaller than in previous years. Imagine my pre-teen horror when it turned out virtually all the books in the box were ones that I had ordered.
I remember sitting there at my desk feeling like a complete baby. How had I not gotten the message that my friends weren't doing this anymore? - a repeated theme of my childhood and teenage years. It wasn't as if the books were meant for younger kids.The Scholastic sheet was appropriate for your reading level. Still, there's nothing a kid hates more than to feel singled out among their peers. I got the distinct message that books were uncool now.
That was bad, but manageable. No one was going to peer-pressure me out of being a reader. But it got worse. One of the books I had ordered was called The Daydreamer, and on its cover was an illustration of a boy's body with a cat's head.
My teacher, whom I loved, picked up that book and looked totally perplexed by that admittedly bizarre cover (which I notice they've changed for the latest edition - one of the few instances where I think the new artwork is vastly superior). Then my teacher held it up for the entire class to see while he made a joke about how I liked to read books about boys with cat heads. The entire class laughed at me. I remember physically cringing, hating my classmates, and most of all hating my teacher for using me to get a cheap laugh.
Despite that embarassing episode, one of many as we all experience through our lives, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The Daydreamer is about a boy who daydreams and each chapter is a pleasant episode in his latest fantasies. The cover derives from one dream experience in which he imagines what it would be like to be the family cat. In another set of dreams, he thinks what it would be like turn back into a baby, and later, what it would be like to be an adult (one of my first, very innocent exposures to sexuality). I reread that book often, especially the cat sequence, my favorite since the cat is my spirit animal.
Anyway, years and years later, I was in my childhood bedroom and was looking through my bookshelves and I found The Daydreamer again. I hadn't thought about the Scholastic book sheets in years. In a way, this book represented the end of that fun for me and also represented the beginning of my transition into a socially isolated, acne-suffering class nerd. You'd think I'd hate that book for those reasons, but I didn't. It was well-written. The stories were great. That was really all that mattered.
And then I noticed something my fifth-grade self could never have known. The Daydreamer was written by Ian McEwan, the famous author most well-known for his book, Atonement. All that time I had been a McEwan fan and didn't even know it. I kind of loved that.
So see, fifth grade class and obnoxious teacher, despite the stupid cover art, I had reading taste and you didn't. So there :)