As you’ve probably noticed if you read this blog regularly, Cheryl Orsini and I have quite a few projects in the pipeline at the moment. Early in 2017, we’ll be publishing Lucy’s Book, a picture book I’ve got a particular fondness for, as it is on a very “Natalie” sort of subject. Library books. Need I say more?
You can blame repressed childhood trauma for this one. I could never get to the library often enough as a kid—there just weren’t enough books in existence, as far as I was concerned—but my mother would only ever take me about once a month to the Garden City Library. Here it is, the centre of my universe, in all its 1970s glory:
Unfortunately, the library service was incredibly stingy and would only let you take out two books at a time, or three in the school holidays, an allocation which lasted about a day. It was thus agony to make a decision about which books were actually going to go home with me, particularly as there was one book in that library that I loved so much it was necessarily always under consideration. It was by Beverley Nichols, and it was called The Tree that Sat Down. Garden City Library had one copy, printed in a bindup with its sequel, The Stream that Stood Still, and the big question, whenever I went, was whether the familiar buff and green volume would be in or not. Even seeing it on the shelf was a treat—a reassurance that my treasure was still in circulation. I didn’t borrow it every time, but The Tree that Sat Down was one of a select handful of books I came to know almost by heart—to the point where, when I was about twenty and bought a paperback edition and was traumatised (again) to find it was an abridgement, I was able to pinpoint the exact places where the text had been cut.
I realise I’m rambling, but stay with me, because this is actually leading somewhere that helps explain where Lucy’s Book came from. On one particular evening back in the 1970s, I waltzed up to the library counter with my books and happened to arrive at the same time as my mother. She took one look at the Beverley Nichols bindup and said:
“You’re not borrowing that again.”
“Yes, I am.”
"You’ve already read it.”
“I want to read it again.”
“How many times have you read that book? I thought so. Put it back, you’re not borrowing it again. Go and choose something else.”
Yes, I was craven-hearted. I complied. My mum was bossy, and I knew I would not get away with it, but I was heartbroken, because I knew that from then on, The Tree that Sat Down would be on the proscribed list and I would never get to take it out again. If I mentioned this incident to Mum now, I know she would say she was trying to broaden my horizons by encouraging me to read different types of books (as if that was ever a problem with me, Mum?). What she evidently didn’t understand was a phenomenon familiar to any teacher or librarian who has worked with children: namely, that if a child loves a book, he or she will happily read it over and over again, and that having favourite books that you can return to is an incredibly important part of the childhood reading experience. Even my brother, who hardly ever reads as an adult, will happily admit that as a small boy he read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 32 times. In fact, it can be argued that a children’s book that can’t be re-read with pleasure is not much of a children’s book at all.
So, this is where the idea for Lucy’s Book came from. (See the gorgeous blonde mini-me on the cover?) It’s a story for everyone who has ever loved a book with all their heart, about the special relationship between a little girl, her friends, and her very favourite library book, the one she borrows over and over again. It’s also a story about the life of a library book. When I worked as a librarian in a public library I’d always wonder what happened to the books when they went out the door. (Sometimes, as when they came back with toilet-paper bookmarks, one wished one didn’t know.) Lucy’s Book follows the book as it circulates through a community, being passed from child to child, family to family,m being read, lost, taken to sea, and turned into a banana sandwich, yet returning, over and over again to Lucy. I’m pretty sure some of you will have had a similar experience. Anyway, look out for the book early next year. It’s being published by Lothian in February: over the next few months, you’ll be hearing a lot more about it.