We would be incredibly surprised if this blog from author, Jessica Scott-Whyte, didn’t get you to think about your own experiences and to think to a time when books had a profound effect on you.
When I was in secondary school, around year 9, a new librarian was hired to replace the school’s previous librarian who was taking her retirement.
This new librarian, with the greatest of respect, was as mad as a box of frogs. Well, at least we all thought so. I went to an Irish all-girl state school, a great school run by the Dominican nuns, where a great emphasis was placed on order and adherence to rules and regulations. So naturally, my classmates and I were all expecting this new librarian to be just like the previous one, a sort of living and breathing caricature of what we thought a librarian was ‘supposed’ to be. Quiet, stern, forever wagging the ‘shush!’ finger whenever someone would make a squeak during reading time etc.
Well, this librarian, who as it turned out came all the way from New Zealand, was a million miles away from anything like that. For one thing, she was extremely loud. What’s more, she seemed to love being loud. Every time we’d file into the library for our bi-weekly visits, she’d call out enthusiastically, ‘ALRIGHT GIRLS! COME ON IN! LET’S BE HAVING YOU!’ But the noise didn’t stop there. Because this new librarian absolutely LOVED to talk. Once she got started, there was no stopping her. And this was supposed to be our designated quiet reading time! She’d rabbit on and on about everything and anything. She’d pepper us with questions. ‘What’s the gossip, today girls?!’ she’d say. ‘What’s going on in your lives? Tell me all!’
Of course, most of us were far more interested in having a good natter than anything else, especially as our new librarian was so entertaining. But what was interesting was that as these seemingly casual conversations took off, books and authors would always somehow make their way into the conversation. She’d cackle away talking about Townsend’s humour, she’d enthral us with great stories about the ‘absolutely CRACKERS’ life of Emily Dickinson and her beady eyes would dart around us whenever she’d ask in a whisper, ‘Who here hasn’t read Judy Blume yet??’
One day, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked our new librarian why she’d come to live in Ireland? I was fully convinced (and still am today, if I’m completely honest with you) that she’d been moved on from every library she’d set foot in and her options were running low. It turns out that her husband had a job that involved moving countries regularly.
‘But why did you really ask that??’ she said to me with a knowing glint in her eye, almost reading my thoughts. ‘I bet you think I’m some sort of mad outlawed librarian, don’t you??’I can only imagine the face I pulled when she said that because she immediately began to roar with laughter. ‘Let me tell you something VERY important,’ she said. ‘My job is not to get you to read. It’s not even to encourage you to read. My job is to get you interested in the IDEA of reading. Some kids are naturally drawn to books and stories, but many aren’t. So my job is to get to know every student that comes though my doors, to connect with them, to understand what they are about and see in what way I might be able to plant the seed of interest for reading in their heads. And to really do that, quite often the rules need to be chucked. You have to do things differently!’
Needless to say, this incredible librarian had a profound effect on me. She influenced how I viewed books, reading and literacy for the rest of my life and, when it came to penning my first book for children, her words of wisdom were right there from the very start. Just do it. Differently. The Asparagus Bunch, my debut contemporary comedy for 11+, is a book that doesn’t do things by the book. It has been written for the anti-reader; a person who sees books as the enemy, who finds reading a source of stress, anxiety or frustration. In a bid to reach the anti-reader, I haven’t played by the rules. Leon, the main character, is riddled with flaws. He is rude, arrogant, self-centred, dismissive, offensive, controlling. Yet he is not the villain. In fact, he does have some good parts to his character if you know where to look. The humour in the story is very spiky, it teeters very much on the edge of what might be deemed ‘acceptable’ by adult opinions, but I truly believe that if the real goal is ‘every child a reader’, then we must not take the word ‘every’ lightly. ‘Every’ child includes also those children who display anti-social behaviour, with conduct issues, who disrupt, who disturb, who demand, who insist, who answer back, who opt out, who retaliate, who, in the words of my main character, ‘couldn’t give a fudge’.
Welbeck have produced a set of discussion notes which can be downloaded here.
The Asparagus Bunch is published by Welbeck Children’s Books and is available from your favourite retailer.
Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation.