I Was a Librarian's Pet and Other Stories

Tall Story has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal - if you've never heard of it, this is awarded by children's librarians and is the oldest and most prestigious children's prize for authors in the UK.

Before everyone leaps about and begins drinking startling amounts of alcohol, I have to point out that it's a  long list. Emphasis on lo-ong. I tried to count the nominations but I got confused. I think it's about 50. And the names on the list are stellar - Garth Nix, David Almond, Meg Rosoff, Sharon Creech, Louis Sachar, Geraldine McCaughrean, Michael Morpurgo, Jeannette Winterson for goodness' sake! And on and on.

But you know what? I don't care! Imagine, me on the same list as Geraldine McCaughrean whose book The White Darkness I still carry around in my bag just in case I need to dip in for inspiration.

And what about Louis Sachar? I was doing my taxes the other day - as a first time author, I am allowed to claim back the past seven years of book buying for the sake of my art. And guess what I found in my Amazon receipts seven years ago? Holes by Louis Sachar. That book made me SO want to write. It made me buy every single book Louis Sachar ever wrote!

And Garth Nix? What about him? I read Sabriel again last summer. When I got to the end, I went straight back to the first page to start reading again. Yes, it was that good.

I could go on and on about that long list. In a way it doesn't matter if I get on the short list (well, it matters but I'm trying not to think that far ahead), because forever and ever now I'll be a "Carnegie-nominated author"  - someone who got to sit at the table with the greats (even if it was a very big table).

And you know what else makes the Carnegie so great? It's the award given by children's librarians!

There's a lot of stuff about the dire state of libraries in the news these days. Librarians are like guerrillas in the shadows, with books as their weapons. They are struggling against economics that do not value books - as well as the overwhelming force of other media taking children away from reading. You might want to read this Guardian piece about the future of British libraries

Libraries have always been in dire straits - and some more than others. Becoming a published author has made me more aware than ever before of how the struggle to bring books to children is a gritty battle fought by book lovers on the ground - like Anthony Mariano who has made it his mission to build children's libraries in elementary schools in the Philippines.

Anthony has set up a foundation called the Sambat Trust to create bright, reading spaces to replace the ancient book dumps he found in some schools - one library, he was dismayed to discover, stocked titles like Preface to Econometrics and Reflectorized Soybeans: Growth, Production and Longwave Radiation Balance. No no no!

Anthony's work has turned this library:

Into this:

View the story of this library in a slideshow

It takes one book to change someone's outlook on life. And the someone who delivers that life-changing book could be a librarian near you.

I was the librarian's pet at my school - Miss Evelyn Diaz was her name. I must have been nine? Eight? Twelve? I am of the age now where the memory is all a blur. But I remember the books. Towers of them! We were only allowed to borrow two at a time but Miss Diaz kept some under the counter for me and when nobody was looking stamped me through with four, five, six in one go.

As a grade schooler, I loved the mystery serials. I borrowed every single serial there was - The Beverley Gray Mysteries, The Hardy Boys, The Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Bobbsey Twins, The Judy Bolton Detective Series and those mysteries by Enid Blyton starring Freddie Algernon Trottesville (Fatty, for short).

Miss Diaz made me feel special - like we shared between us this golden treasure that noone else had access to in the school. When I begged to add just one more book to the pile, she was amazed and excited. When I brought the books back, she was delighted that I had read them so quickly.

I found out recently that my mother secretly visited Miss Diaz and scolded her for giving me too many books, asking her to limit the number I took home. Mom thought I was reading too much.

I was at a library event last summer in which the opening remarks were delivered by a supremely articulate and confident young girl, Madina - who talked about how one book (it was in fact, in French and an adult book) transformed her from someone who pooh-poohed books to a voracious reader. I was waiting in the library after the event, when I saw Madina collecting a stack of books to take away. Aha! A librarian's pet!


Maybe it's vanity but one of the reasons I write for children is because I remember what it's like to be totally, absolutely blown away by your first FANTASTIC book. I remember the feeling ... and how I want to be the author that awakens that ravenous love for reading in a child. (As I write, I've got tears in my eyes, remembering how awesome the feeling of reading my first good book was - what a GIFT!).

But who's going to put that book into a child's hand?

A librarian.

So thank you, Miss Evelyn Diaz wherever you are, for ignoring my Mom.

You gave me the world.

Christmas raffle! I am giving away one copy of the UK hardback of Tall Story to commenters who are not based in the United Kingdom; and one copy of the illustrated Philippine edition to commenters who live in the UK! I'll be collecting the names of commenters from now on and the raffle will be on the 15th of December. You get a name in the raffle with every post you comment on (one ticket per blog post). Nice, well thought comments, hear? Happy commenting!