Being a full-time writer isn’t as glamorous as you might think. It involves many hours of isolation, with only your thoughts (and current manuscript) as company. It can be great if the writing is going well. But if the words aren’t flowing, it can sometimes be torture.
After eight months of being a full-time writer, I knew I needed to find something else to do besides writing all the time. Something that got me out of the house more than once or twice a week. Something that would finally give me a good excuse to shave the hermit-like beard I had been growing. So in May, I got a part-time job in the unlikeliest of places — the children’s section of a nearby library.
I don’t have kids. I don’t even necessarily like kids. And the things I write are definitely not for kids. So how did I end up re-shelving picture books and helping kids find the latest installment of The Magic Tree House? Because the library needed help and I needed a diversion from writing. The arrangement is mutually beneficial.
And in those five months, I’ve found that I really like being there. There’s a great camaraderie among the librarians. Books come and go at a surprising pace. And as a writer, you can’t imagine how wonderful it is to see kids literally running toward books.
The job has also allowed me to reacquaint myself with titles I hadn’t thought about since childhood. Does anyone else remember The Very Hungry Caterpillar? It’s just as awesome as I remembered it. Same goes for The Westing Game, The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree and, one of my childhood favorites, The Monster at the End of This Book. I’ve also discovered more recent books that are destined to be classics, my favorite being Flora & Ulysses by the awesome Kate DiCamillo.
I’ve also had the pleasure of finding new books that, if there’s any justice in this world, will someday join the ranks of classics. So today, I thought I’d share five of these newer titles. All of these were published in the past year of so, and all are guaranteed to bring out the kid in you.
Tim is a little boy who sometimes feels invisible. Sam is a ginormous whale who can’t seem to find his way home. The two become instant best friends as Tim tries to get Sam home. I feel in love with this book the moment I saw it’s cover. Atkinson’s illustrations are bright, adorable and gorgeous. Tim is a great role model for kids, and the round and smiley Sam just might become the most adored literary animal since Curious George.
Narrated by 11-year-old math and music genius Nicholas, If You Find This involves a fractured family, hidden treasure and a hearty dose of magical realism. Mostly, though, it’s about being a misfit, finding friends and navigating the treacherous terrain of growing up. By turns humorous, adventurous and sad, it’s the perfect place to start if you’re curious about the current state of juvenile fiction.
Another eye-popping picture book, this time in shades of blue and dark yellow. It’s a simple tale about a library for woodland creatures run by a young librarian and her three owl assistants. If the story is slight, the illustrations are gloriously advanced. It has a stark, modern look that still manages to charm the pants off readers. Kids will love it. Their parents will love it more.
Peanut Butter is a lonely slice of bread slathered on one side with peanut butter. Feeling lonely, he sets off on bent-paperclip limbs to find his match. During his journey, he encounters Meatball, Cupcake and other food items that don’t quite fit his personality. That he eventually does find his match — and that it involves jelly — is no surprise. The real delight here is way Border manipulates photographs of real food to create believable characters and a charmingly low-tech universe.
Another picture book that relies on photographs instead of illustrations. And, yes, another one involving peanuts. Sort of. Mr. Peanuts is the name writer and photographer Nancy Rose gave to the squirrel that frequented her back deck. Once she started setting up props and backdrops for him to interact with, a book was born. And what a book it is! Full of charm and whimsy, it’s perfect for animal lovers of any age.
And that’s just a small taste of what new books await you (or your children) at the local library. And if anyone has suggestions for more, like Mr. Peanuts, I’m all ears.