The first thing that happens when you start working as a children’s librarian is that you go around looking for all the books you read as a child, or as many as you can find. (Me and Katie, the Pest is still on that list.) The second thing that happens is that you involuntarily start a mental list of all the references in children’s books to libraries and librarians. There are many.
I have a feeling that this is because 1) children’s writers want to encourage an appreciation for librarians in their young readers, or 2) they want to cultivate a secret understanding between reader and writer that librarians are actually a little bit scary on the outside but possibly human underneath, or 3) children’s writers see children’s librarians as a sort of daemon (see Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass), a little soulmate who scurries around helpfully and without whom they would not be complete. Perhaps No. 3 is the minority.
To begin an occasional series on libraries and librarians in children’s books, I’d like to introduce a fellow chained library from one of the most enjoyable new books I’ve read this year, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente (1): A-L, also known affectionately as Ell, or taxonomically as a Wyverary. (His mother was a Wyvern and his father was a Library.) Why is he chained and what will the heroine September do about it? All questions will be handled at the appropriate time and place within the workings of Fairyland. All I can say is that he is “fastened with an extremely serious-looking lock.”
A-L has the advantage, or disadvantage, of being quite knowledgeable on every subject from A-L. This is his genetic heritage. His siblings M-S and T-Z have their domains, as well. Of course, as a card-carrying member of the Dewey Decimal Conspiracy, I have to ask, if his father is a Library and his subjects are limited by the alphabet, then are libraries in Fairyland organized solely on the basis of the alphabet?
That would be all right for a limited amount of information, but, Wyverary, when a four-year-old comes up to you wanting Trucks, do you have to escort them to T, and then B for Big Rigs, then L for Lowriders, and so on and so forth? Or do you succumb to decimalization and lump them all together under 629 for Things with Wheels that Go Vroom (I’m not completely sure that’s the right subject heading)? Or is it a moot point because there are no trucks in Fairyland, and anyway your internal catalog stops at L? I think that there must be an Encyclopedia back in Ell’s family tree (or MARC record), so perhaps really he’s an Encyclo-Wyverary, to account for the alphabetical indexing.
Fortunately, Ell’s knowledge comes in handy just when September needs it, and, perhaps even more important, his great big heart does, too. I hope this means that Ms. Valente is in Group 1 above.
1. I saw Catherynne M. Valente at MythCon in July, and she was brilliant. Read some of the essays on her website, and her blog post/MythCon keynote on why we are so obssessed with medieval-style fantasy settings, “Dragon Bad, Sword Pretty.” In honor of Wyveraries and Ms. Valente’s other recent book, Deathless, (it’s for grown-ups), here’s a picture of the Russian fairytale “Maria Morevna,” on which Deathless is based. The image is from Lucy Maxym’s Russian Lacquer, Legends, and Fairy Tales, Vol. II (Siamese Imports Co., 1986). Yes, that is Koschei the Deathless lurking in the upper right corner, so watch it.