Guess where I first met Pippi Longstocking? She was dancing on her front porch with a polka-dot horse, calling Tiddly-pom and piddly-dee!
The school library.
Guess where I first met Beverly Cleary’s Ellen Tebbits, she of the dreaded woolen underwear who goes to great effort to bring a giant beet to Show and Tell?
The school library.
Judy Moody sleeps with her feet on her pillow, à la Pippi. Judy Moody brings Stink’s belly button (from when he was a baby) to class in a jar.
I didn’t plan this. I didn’t even make these connections until years into writing the Judy Moody books. But on occasion, when I’d happen to re-read one of the the favorite books of my youth, I’d find things there that had been imprinted on me without my knowing. Homer Price and his unstoppable doughnut machine. The Borrowers and their postage-stamp paintings. The Moffats and their ghosts in the attic.
At home, we’d play library. I grew up with four older sisters and lots of books. So I made my own card catalog, and when my sisters wanted to check out one of my books, I’d write it down and stamp DATE DUE.
I still remember the thrill when my school librarian let me stamp DATE DUE in my library book. For real.
It’s no wonder I grew up to become a librarian. My husband was an elementary school librarian for a time. All over the country, school librarians have welcomed me as an author to their vibrant centers. School libraries are the heartbeat of the school.
When I first moved to California some twenty years ago now, I was invited to speak at my local elementary school. They told me I’d be speaking in the classroom, or in the cafeteria after the kids were done eating. I offered, “How about if we gather kids in the school library?”
The parent hosting the event did not think there’d be enough space. When I asked to see the library, I was stunned. It was in a small portable building at a far end of the campus. It was dark. It was locked.
I’d never met a school library that did not have an open door.
I asked why the door was locked. I asked why the library was not open. And I was told that the school did not have a librarian. I was told they hardly had any books anyway. I was told that once a week the bus driver opened the library and kids could check out a book.
It didn’t take long for me to try to do something about it. For years, I worked as a “consultant.” Translation: Friend to school libraries. I got a special library card and checked out hundreds of books from the public library. Armed with a trunk full of books, I wheeled them into schools where I book-talked to groups and committees of teachers who became wonderful advocates for the school library.
I wouldn’t be who I am without the school library. School libraries and librarians shape lives.
In fact, I overheard Judy Moody and Stink talking about it just the other day…
“Check it out, Stink.” Judy Moody held out a book for Stink to see. Stink and the Attack of the Slime Mold.
“Hey, wait. Hold everything! That kid in the book has the same name as me.”
“That’s impossible,” Stink yelped.
“Stink! Shh! We’re in the school library!”
“Oh, yeah. Oops. My inside voice got way too excited.”
“And guess what, Stink. My teacher, Mr. Todd, read on the MackinVIA Community blog that the author, Megan McDonald, got her start at the school library.”
“Whoa,” said Stink. “For real?”
“No lie. Guess what her favorite book was?”
Judy laughed. “She does like the dictionary a lot, especially the big fat one with pictures, but her favorite book was a biography of Virginia Dare.”
“What! That’s the name of our school!”
“Duh,” said Judy. “How do you think our school got its name?”
“That’s cuckoo-crazy,” said Stink.
“And guess what else. She checked out that book so many times that the librarian had to ask her to give some other kids a chance.”
“Let’s go find it,” said Stink.
“I think it’s from a way long time ago. But they have other biographies. Tons of them. Like Snowflake Bentley and Sacajawea and George Washington Carver.”
“Whoa. Didn’t he invent peanut butter or something?”
“Or something. I’m not sure, Stink, but he invented a ton of cool stuff.”
“Did you know that kids will eat about 1500 peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches by the time they’re out of high school?” asked Stink.
“I did not know that!” said Judy. “C’mon, Stink. Let’s go look up the inventor of peanut butter.”
“Cool beans!” said Stink. “I love true stuff. True stuff is the best. No lie.”