Quick. Name the first, best job that pops into your brain when you think Aspiring Children’s Writer. Okay, bookseller works. Mom. Scout leader, camp counselor.
But I’m thinking about my own day job. The best job in the world. I was a school librarian.
I started my career in fifth grade at the Hill Demonstration School in Cleveland, Mississippi. Our school library filled up a small room on the first floor, across from the principal’s office. I was invited by the principal and my teacher to be the librarian. I don’t know who the real librarian was. I don't think we had a librarian most of the time. I spent no time cataloging, ordering, or even reshelving books. My fifth grade position entailed reading and recommending.
I read the books with winning stickers on the covers, but I’m not ashamed to say I read every single Nancy Drew book and most of the Childhood of Famous Americans “biographies” (which have since been mostly discredited as true biography. Or true anything.). Perhaps because they were shelved directly behind the Librarian’s Desk, that great, solid piece of bulk where I sat, wielding power with the little rubber date stamp.
I went on to become a Jr. High Library helper and even a high school library volunteer.
My career path was pre-destined.
After college, when friends fretted over what city to move to, what boyfriend to follow where, what school to teach in, I calmly chose the graduate school that specialized in children’s work.
I won’t bore you with my entire school library career. (Boston, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Baltimore, Summit, NJ).
But here’s what prepared me for my current career as writer of both middle-grade fiction and book reviews:
I’ve read almost every Newbery-winning novel ever published.
I know the answer to the question “Can I have the yellow book with monkeys on the cover?”
I can talk about a 250-word novel in three sentences or less.
I know when the little girl who loved the Dear America series might be ready for Lois Lowry.
Recently, a writers’ listserv shared a letter from a young Indiana girl. She’d sent this to the newspaper:
Dear the government,
I don't like that you're firing our school librarians. I am a first-grader at Childs school, and I think that Ms. Williams is a great librarian. She reads wonderful stories, and her voice goes up when it is supposed to and down when it is supposed to.
She helps me find books and makes me interested in reading and makes books
exciting for me. Ms. Williams makes us feel special. She knows each kid's name.
Childs school will never be the same without Ms. Williams in the library.
Why are you firing our school librarians?
If libraries are not staffed by professional librarians who know their stuff (books), love kids, and have time to connect the two--not to mention realize what parts of the story need a voice going up-- what a tremendous loss to girls like Anna.
I left the library world to write full time. But I still hang out in libraries. Researching facts for historical fiction, finding a quiet place to write, chatting with the librarians about what kids are reading. I can't even imagine what those kids without librarians do. Even in my Kindled/ Googling/ Facebooking world, I need my library.
Augusta Scattergood blogs about reading and writing at her own blog: http://ascattergood.blogspot.com/
Her first middle grade novel, GLORY BE, is about to launch in January from Scholastic.