Libraries in children’s literature: Part I

After gathering together picture books about libraries, I thought I would take a look at libraries in children’s literature. The seven books I’ve chosen, covering both junior and young adult fiction, each have a library at the heart of their story. In this post, I will introduce you to the first four books.

Lily Quench and the Lighthouse of Skellig Mor
Written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Janine Dawson

The Lighthouse Of Skellig Mor

At the ends of the earth is Skellig Lir, a dreamy magical island that is inhabited by mysterious people with strange powers. To get there, Lily Quench and Queen Dragon must brave magic, storms and seas swarming with deadly sea dragons-and Ariane, the rebellious keeper of the lonely lighthouse of Skellig Mor.

In the depths of an undersea cavern, Lily struggles to communicate with the sea dragons and escape the skeleton-filled tunnels beneath the lighthouse. Only then can she complete her quest: to enter a fantastical library that has existed from the beginning of the world…

The winner of the 2003 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Short Fiction, this is the fourth book in the fabulous Lily Quench series. Our heroine is the last in a long line of dragon slayers, but has a gentler nature than her ancestors. She befriends Sinhault Fierdaze, otherwise known as Queen Dragon, who helps her to save the town of Ashby from the Black Count. In this adventure, Lily and Queen Dragon set off for the legendary Library of Skellig Lir, in the hope of finding magic books to help in the fight against the invaders threatening their home. Although initially barred from entering the library by the librarian, Lily later returns with a book that she has found and is allowed in.

The Library of Skellig Lir is “the most magical place in all the world”. When Lily enters the library, she discovers that it is alive:

A single great tree grew out of the bedrock of the little island. Its arching branches filled the space beneath the crystal cupola…and its leaves sighed and rustled in some invisible breeze. In the shelves formed by crevices in the trunk stood thousands of books, living books, that glowed with all the colours of the rainbow.

Books within the library grow on the tree: “As Lily watched, print started appearing on the tiny pages and miniature people in brightly coloured clothes ran over the paper like insects and settled into the illustrations”. The librarian, who has been in the Library of Skellig Lir since the beginning of the world, ‘picks’ the books when they are ready, just like fruit. She tells Lily, “Everyone who has ever been born has at least one book in this library”. Although she closed the library to outsiders after it was damaged by a group of magicians, she helps Lily find the information she needs in her quest to protect Ashby.

An interesting fact about the series is that one of the main characters is a librarian, as was Natalie Jane Prior before she became a full-time children’s writer (Prior, 2017).

Tally and Squill In a Sticky Situation
Written by Abie Longstaff and illustrated by James Brown

Tally And Squill

Tally is an orphan…She works as a maid…And sleeps in the kitchen sink.

But all around her there are secret passages, ancient mysteries and magical adventures waiting to be found. With the help of a furry friend, Tally discovers the hidden world of Mollett Manor…and the underground place where magic happens.

When Lord Mollett’s treasures are stolen, Tally is determined to catch the burglars. But all she has are her brains, her courage and a faithful squirrel. Can she save a sticky situation?

This is the first book in the Tally and Squill series (the second, Tally and Squill and the Scent of Danger, has just been published). Like Lily Quench, Tally is an orphan, working as a maid at Mollett Manor. Squill is the squirrel she becomes friends with. He helps her to discover who is stealing Lord Mollett’s valuables. When Tally explores the grounds of the manor, she discovers an underground library. She then uses books she finds there to trap the thieves and restore the treasure to its rightful owner.

The Secret Library is accessed by solving a puzzle. This unlocks a trapdoor with a ladder that leads down into an enormous room. Lamps provide illumination, revealing shelves and books:

This was no ordinary library. There were no aisles or neat ordered rows. Here shelves twisted and turned and corkscrewed from floor to ceiling…She looked up and the ceiling narrowed to a tiny point high, high above her. Here and there were little wobbly ladders which stretched up to reach the highest levels.

The collection was begun in 1150 by the Minervian Monks to “preserve our knowledge and protect the information we discovered”. But a hundred years later, disaster struck and the library entrance was sealed. It can only be opened by the Secret Keeper, which means that Tally is now responsible for protecting the library and the knowledge it contains.

The books are old and worn, covering all subject matters (although there don’t appear to be any fiction books!). When Tally reads them, magic happens. They come to life and she watches as a spider spins its web or a turtle snaps its jaw in front of her.

Like any good reader, Tally uses the knowledge she gains from the books, along with her own courage, to right a wrong.

Escape From Mr Lemoncello’s Library
Written by Chris Grabenstein and illustrated by Gilbert Ford (cover)

Escape From Mr Lemoncello's Library

When Kyle learns that the world’s most famous game maker has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on the first night, he’s determined to be there. But the tricky part isn’t getting into the library-it’s getting out. Kyle’s going to need all his smarts, because a good roll of the dice or lucky draw of the cards isn’t enough to win in Mr Lemoncello’s library.

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down when I read it. Which isn’t surprising as it won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Children/Young Adult Mystery. If you enjoy solving puzzles, codes and clues, this is for you! Kyle loves games, especially the board games created by Mr Lemoncello, a ‘Willy Wonka meets Parker Brothers’ genius. Along with  eleven other 12-year-olds, Kyle wins a competition to take part in a library lock-in at the new Alexandriaville library. This has been designed and funded by Mr Lemoncello, who loved the original library that had been pulled down twelve years earlier. The children have to “use what they find in the library to find their way out of the library”, without setting off the alarms or using the front door or fire exits. As Mr Lemoncello says, “It’ll be like The Hunger Games but with lots of food and no bows and arrows”! And so the competition begins…

The town’s bank building has been converted into Mr Lemoncello’s library, retaining many of the original features:

With towering Corinthian columns, an arched entryway, lots of fancy trim, and a mammoth shimmering gold dome, the building looked like it belonged next door to the triumphant memorials in Washington, D.C.-not on this small Ohio town’s quaint streets.

Three storeys high, the library boasts a range of features: a large circular reading room, a Children’s Room, an Electronic Learning Center with educational video games (each with 3D vision, surround sound and smell-a-vision) and the Book Nook cafe. The Wonder Dome consists of ten video screens lining the library’s dome. These can display a single picture, such as the night sky, or individual images relating to the Dewey Decimal System. There are holographic statues in recesses at the base of the Dome, holographic animals among the bookcases and animatronics in the Story Corner.

The collection includes books and artefacts. Books on higher shelves can be reached using hover ladders, which utilise “advanced magnetic levitation technology”. Antique games and toys are located in the Board Room, while the Lemoncello-abilia Room houses ‘junk’ that Mr Lemoncello has collected.

Dr Yanina Zinchenko, a world-famous librarian, is responsible for overseeing the construction of the library: “Only she knew all the marvels and wonders the incredible new library would hold (and hide) within its walls”. The only other staff are holographic librarians, who provide assistance and answer questions, and robots, who restock the shelves.

For those who have enjoyed this book, there are two sequels: Mr Lemoncello’s Library Olympics and Mr Lemoncello’s Great Library Race (to be published in October 2017). I’ll definitely be reading both!

The Forbidden Library
Written by Django Wexler and illustrated by David Wyatt

The Forbidden Library

When Alice is orphaned she is sent away to live with the enigmatic Mr Geryon, owner of a huge, dark-and forbidden-library. After gaining entry with the help of a talking cat, Alice opens a book and finds herself trapped inside; she can only escape by conquering the dangerous creatures within. Alice has stumbled into a world where all of magic is controlled by Readers: she must open more books, face increasingly powerful foes, be the lead character in her quest to find a happy ending…

This book is the first in The Forbidden Library series. Like Lily Quench and Tally, Alice is an orphan, who has been sent to live with her uncle after her father dies in mysterious circumstances. Upon discovering the library, she enters a world of magic, which includes fairies with teeth and books full of danger. She is assisted by Ash, a talking cat with attitude, and both helped and hindered by Isaac, a boy with the same powers as her.

The library is housed in a building in the grounds of the house in which Alice is now living. From the outside, it looks like a fortress, with no windows and a single bronze door. But inside it is quite different:

The library seemed to be in a single vast room, cluttered with bookcases that rose almost to the low stone ceiling. They were arranged in rough rows, but irregularly, with gaps at random intervals.

The library is alive, with shelves that shift position and cats that wander among the books. It is also guarded by Ending, a mysterious giant feline, who wants to help Alice understand what she is caught up in. For Alice, like Isaac, is a Reader. This means that she is able to enter books and interact with the characters in them. Sometimes, in order to escape the book, she has to bind to her will the creature that she finds inside.

There is no organisation within the library, with books placed haphazardly on the shelves. Each book is a doorway to another place, either in this world or another. Some books ‘leak’ out into the library in that “they make a little bit of our world into a little bit of theirs”. When this happens, elements from the setting of the book appear among the bookcases.

The librarian, Mr Wurms, sits at a table in the middle of the library and moves so infrequently that “dust had settled all over him, like snow, and turned him a dirty grey”. Alice doesn’t like him, with his unpleasant gaze, his black, rotten teeth and his voice “as dry as a corpse”. He spends his time reading, stopping only to give Alice chores within the library.

The Forbidden Library is an enjoyable read, with a strong-willed heroine, a sassy sidekick, magic and mysteries. I look forward to working my way through the series.

Watch this space. The second part of the post will appear very soon.

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb or contents of the book.

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2 thoughts on “Libraries in children’s literature: Part I

  1. Pingback: Libraries in children’s literature: Part II | Tales From The Children's Library

  2. Pingback: My reading philosophy | Tales From The Children's Library

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