Librarians and Libraries for Children

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  • Librarians and Libraries for ChildrenEdward and the Pirates by David McPhail; Library Lil by Suzanne Williams; Richard Wrightand the Library Card by William Miller; The Librarian from the Black Lagoon by MikeThaler; Toms and the Library Lady by Pat Mora; Toms y la Seora de la Biblioteca by PatMoraReview by: Norman D. StevensThe Library Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan., 1999), pp. 90-93Published by: The University of Chicago PressStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4309271 .Accessed: 12/06/2014 18:42

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  • A REVIEW ARTICLE LIBRARIANS AND LIBRARIES FOR CHILDREN

    Norman D. Stevens'

    Edward and the Pirates. By DAVID MCPHAIL. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1997. Pp. 28. $15.95 (cloth). ISBN 0-316-56344-7.

    Library LiL By SUZANNE WILLLAMS, illustrated by STEVEN KELLOCG. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1997. Pp. 30. $14.99 (cloth). ISBN 0-8037-1698-2.

    Richard Wright and the Libraiy Card. By WILLIAM MILLER, illustrated by GREGORY CHRIS- TIE. New York: Lee & Low Books, 1997. Pp. 30. $15.95 (cloth). ISBN 1-880-00057-1.

    The Librarian from the Black Lagoon. By MIKE THALER, pictures by JARED LEE. New York: Scholastic, 1997. Pp. 30. $2.99 (cloth). ISBN 0-590-50311-1.

    Tomds and the Library Lady. By PAT MoRA, illustrated by RAUL COLON. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Pp. 28. $17.00 (cloth); $7.99 (paper). ISBN 0-679-80401-3.

    Tomds y la Seiiora de la Biblioteca. Por PAT MoRA, ilustraciones de RAUL COLON. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. Pp. 28. $17.00 (cloth); $7.95 (paper). ISBN 0-679- 84173-3.

    Introduction

    In recent years, for reasons that are not apparent, there has been a marked increase in the publication of books for children that feature librarians and libraries. Unlike many children's books of this kind in the past, almost all of the newer books present a positive image of our profession. In brief fiction and nonfiction treatments, authors and illus- trators are demonstrating the influence that books and reading, and the impact that librarians and libraries, can have on stimulating the intellectual growth of children. Even when, as is still sometimes the case, the stereotypical librarian-generally an unattractive female with glasses and her hair in a bun-appears, it is for a good reason. Often the reason is to demonstrate that, in fact, the stereotype that children may have already encountered is a false one. This review, which will focus on five recent books, supplements my earlier article "Books

    1. University Libraries, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut 06268.

    [Library Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 1, pp. 90-93]

    3 1999 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

    0024-2519/99/6901-0005$2.00

    90

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  • REVIEW ARTICLE 91

    about Us for Kids" (American Libraries 27 [October 1996]: 52-53), which highlighted the start of this trend. As librarians, we should know about these books and be actively promoting their use. They are an excellent indicator of the esteem that some of today's best children's authors and illustrators have for the essential role that librarians and libraries play in promoting books and encouraging reading. All is not yet lost to electronics.

    Reality

    Of particular significance, because they are the first of their kind, is the publication of two books that deal directly with the real impact of books and reading on the intellectual development of two young mi- nority males who went on to become important cultural figures. The stories behind Richard Wright and the Library Card and Tomas and the Library Lady are quite different. William Miller retells the story of how Richard Wright overcame the obstacles he faced in Memphis in the 1920s as a black person who wished to use the public library. It was only by finding a white man in the office where he worked who was willing to write a note indicating that Wright was borrowing books for him that he was able to gain access. Here, as in reality, the female librar- ian to whom he presents the note challenges him but, reluctantly, gives him permission to use the library. In Gregory Christie's dark illustra- tions, the librarian is presented, in this case to heighten the intimidat- ing barriers that Wright encountered, in the old stereotype. His persis- tence provided him with access to books that truly changed his life. Tom'as Rivera, who went on to become chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, faced a quite different situation as the son of mi- grant Mexican farm workers in Iowa in the early 1940s. Like Wright, Rivera had a love for the stories told by his grandfather. Here Papa Grande, as Pat Mora recounts in Tomas and the Library Lady, encourages Tom'as to go to the library so he can teach the family new stories. Tomias does and, after overcoming the forbidding barrier of the library build- ing, finds a female librarian who, even though she does wear glasses in Raul Colon's lush illustrations, welcomes and encourages him to use the library. Over the course of the summer their friendship blossoms, and it is clear that this unnamed librarian was an important influence on Rivera's life and subsequent academic career. It is especially heart- ening to see that this book has been published in both an English and a Spanish edition. It should be an especially effective resource for li- brarians working with young Spanish-speaking users.

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  • 92 THE LIBRARY QUARTERLY

    Transformations

    The imaginative use of transforming the stereotypical librarian into the lovable librarian was pioneered by Carmen Agra Deedy in The Library Dragon (Atlanta, Ga.: Peachtree Publishers, 1994). Her tale, accompa- nied by Michael P. White's brilliant illustrations, shows how even the fiercest dragon of a school librarian can be transformed into a friendly storyteller. Mike Thaler's The Librarian from the Black Lagoon takes a slightly different transformational approach that parallels his other sto- ries about the cafeteria lady, gym teacher, principal, school nurse, and teacher from the black lagoon. Here, in Thaler's brief words accompa- nied by Jared Lee's weird illustrations, is the simple story of a typical school class terrified by their approaching first visit to the school li- brary. They've heard, naturally, all kinds of evil things about the Media Center of the Earth that is run by Mrs. Beamster, who is known as "The Laminator" because, reportedly, she laminates kids who talk in the library. All of the usual terrors of silence, decontamination, wear- ing hair nets and rubber gloves, the gum detector, the Dewey Dec- imal system, and books that cannot be touched are set forth. After twenty-five pages of sheer terror, the kids finally near the library only to find, in the last five pages, welcoming signs and a pleasant, smiling Mrs. Beamster-without glasses-who cheerfully presents one of the kids with a book of knock-knock jokes. What more could one ask?

    A different kind of transformation takes place in Suzanne Williams' Library Lil. Williams, who has been a librarian for twenty years, begins by reminding us of the stereotype, but this lasts only for one page as she quickly proceeds to tell us the story of Library Lil, a tomboy and avid reader who, to no one's surprise, grew up to be the librarian. Her first challenge is to bring readers to the library, which takes a storm causing a two-week power outage that, in turn, brings the inhabitants of Chesterville to the library. Her main challenge comes from a fierce gang of motorcycle riders, led by Bust-'em-up Bill, who become upset when they find that the local bar lacks a television set on which they can watch wrestling, because Lil has been so successful in creating a town of readers. In a dramatic confrontation with Lil, the gang blocks the library parking lot with their motorcycles forcing her to flex her muscles as she throws the motorcycles aside. Duly impressed, Bill and his gang soon become active readers and Bust-'em-up Bill becomes her assistant, Bookworm Bill. The colorful and imaginative illustra- tions, which are typical of Steven Kellogg's work, help strengthen the image of a friendly, strong, young female librarian, who is simply one of Lawrence Clark Powell's "thousand disparate dazzlers." Even his

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  • REVIEW ARTICLE 93

    initial illustration, which features the stereotypical female librarian in her lair behind the desk, has a certain charm.

    The World of Books

    The hero of David McPhail's Edward and the Pirates is, at least indirectly, the lovely young librarian Ms. Torres. Here, however, in the words and story, but especially in McPhail's mysterious images, is another version of the age-old story of how books and reading can challenge our imagi- nation. Like the real-life Tom'as, the fictional Edward turns to the li- brary to explore new and different worlds. When he checks out Lost Pirate Treasure, he is followed home by the pirates, who want the book so they can recover their treasure. Being the good library user that he is, Edward refuses to turn the book over to them because it is charged out on his library card. Saved from the pirates by his mother on a white charger and his father with a bow and arrow, Edward finally turns the book over to the pirates, only to discover that they cannot read. As the story ends, Edward is reading the book to the pirates. Here, as in the other books in this review, the importance of knowing how to read, the stimulation to be found in books, and the value of the library as a source of books are effectively presented to young readers.

    Conclusion

    Many librarians, unless they themselves have children or grandchil- dren, are likely either not to know about or to ignore the multitude of good contemporary children's books that present librarians and li- braries in a favorable light. This is a mistake, for there is a great deal to be learned from such books. They are an effective and useful means of promoting books, libraries, and reading. They reveal a great deal about how libraries are now seen by children's authors and illustrators and, as a result, in popular culture. They are well worth examining for the key role that they play in conveying a positive image of librarians and in helping, perhaps in the most significant way possible, to lay to rest the old stereotype. They may even be helpful in recruiting the next generation of librarians-not, one might note, information specialists.

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    Article Contentsp. 90p. 91p. 92p. 93

    Issue Table of ContentsThe Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan., 1999), pp. 1-146Front Matter [pp. 89-89]Tunnel Vision and Blind Spots: What the past Tells Us about the Present; Reflections on the Twentieth-Century History of American Librarianship [pp. 1-32]On a Spectrum: International Models of School Librarianship [pp. 33-56]Library Consultant in Indonesia: The Work of A. G. W. Dunningham [pp. 57-85]The Cover Design [pp. 86-88]A Review ArticleReview: Librarians and Libraries for Children [pp. 90-93]

    ReviewsReview: untitled [pp. 94-96]Review: untitled [pp. 96-98]Review: untitled [pp. 98-100]Review: untitled [pp. 100-102]Review: untitled [pp. 102-103]Review: untitled [pp. 104-106]Review: untitled [pp. 106-108]Review: untitled [pp. 108-110]Review: untitled [pp. 110-111]Review: untitled [pp. 112-113]Review: untitled [pp. 114-115]Review: untitled [pp. 116-118]Review: untitled [pp. 118-121]Review: untitled [pp. 121-123]Review: untitled [pp. 123-125]Review: untitled [pp. 125-127]Review: untitled [pp. 128-130]Review: untitled [pp. 130-133]Review: untitled [pp. 133-135]Review: untitled [pp. 136-137]

    Shorter NoticesReview: untitled [pp. 138-139]Review: untitled [pp. 139-140]

    Books Received [pp. 141-145]Back Matter [pp. 146-146]