The Secrets on Your Shelves

TASL is proud to welcome New York Times bestselling author, Tennessean, and guest blogger, Natalie Lloyd. Her book, A Snicker of Magic was nominated for the 2016-2017 Volunteer State Book Award and her book The Key to Extraordinary was a 2017-2018 VSBA Finalist.

Written by Natalie Lloyd

Even though I eagerly attended library every week in elementary school, there’s something I didn’t realize about you – media specialists/school story wizards – until now. All along, you weren’t just curating a diverse and exciting collection of stories in your libraries. You were safe-keeping hundreds of childhood memories and moments. I’d like to do my best job of thanking you for keeping mine.

Of all the classrooms I sat in (or, more accurately, fidgeted in) as a kid, the room I remember most is my school library. I remember the dark blue padding in the chairs, the shelves lined up around the four white walls, the way the wind seemed to gust when we opened the door. (Which is exactly what the wind in a library should do.) I remember sitting anxiously at the square table with my friends, scanning the room like I was a contestant on Supermarket Sweep.

When it was my table’s turn to get up … where would I start?

Which shelf would I visit first?

Which stack would I explore?

Of course, I knew where to find the new books. And I’m grateful my librarian, Mrs. Goss, pointed me toward those time and time again. But I had a habit, as I assume lots of kids do, of running back to the books I loved the most. And when I see those books now, I feel a sharp and tender bolt of remembers sizzle through my heart. Memories have a way of tumbling out of those books like confetti when I open them. Or just think about them, even. Any and all of them. I’ll start with Blubber.

The Judy Blume section was near the glass fire escape door. (How fitting that her stories caught the light.) Blubbercaught the changing feelings I had about my ever-changing body. Specifically, that I didn’t have the gangly body type of my friends. Once nonchalant about myself (a body was cool: just skin and bones and knobby knees that carried me where I wanted to go), I was suddenly overwhelmingly self-conscious about the skin I could pinch, the gap between my teeth that was way too wide. Somehow, during that time, I found Blubber. Or Blubberfound me, maybe. Linda’s journey gave me words to articulate the hurt I felt. But it plopped me right into the conflicted mind of 5th Grade Jill: why do we chime in to make fun of other people for anything? What does it say about us when we do that? Blubber didn’t just get me through a tough season. It made me a better person.

The Narnia section was my beacon. This is kind of funny considering my parents bought me my own set. But I loved the feelof the library set. The paper covers were gone, but the hardbacks there were soft, a color of blue so dark it was nearly black. Like a night sky fit for dreaming. “Aslan is on the move,” said Mr. Beaver to me, over and over, every time I read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The hope in that line overwhelmed my young heart. I realized then that some books were experiences, not just pages.

I could show you a zillion more books that hold memories for me, so many titles that make me think of the friends I had, the house where I lived, my favorite pet, the willow tree where I liked to read, the first boy I had a crush on. I tucked constellations of memories into those pages. And somewhere along the way, I dreamed of writing my own stories.

A few years ago, my first novel, A Snicker of Magic, was published by Scholastic. Shortly thereafter, my elementary school librarian, Mrs. Goss, invited me back to the library. She handed me a copy of the book I had written. And she asked me to put it on the shelf. I wondered —hoped, just a little—someone might hide a memory in my book, too.

I am now convinced that dreams born in a library don’t fade. They have a certain magic at the edges. Maybe the books we loved as kids, the ones we think back on as adults, have a special way of showing us the scope of things. Where we were. Where we are. Where we can go, if we want. Which is anywhere. We’re living a story, after all. Not just reading one. But you know that already.

And that’s why I wanted to say thank you. All along, you knew that you weren’t just putting books back on the shelf. You were adding someone’s heart and memories to your collection. You were searching for someone’s favorite novel. You kept a hold on someone’s lifeline book, the pages that would lead them like breadcrumbs through the saddest times.

All along, you’ve known that every time you give a student a book she might love, you are giving her something more precious than a passport: a story. A story where she gets to pretend to be the hero just long enough to realize she really is one. That she has been, all along. She’ll give the book back to you, eventually. But the dreams she’s dreamed in your library will be waiting for her someday, when she needs them most. You’ll make sure of it.AuthorPhoto2JPG

Natalie Lloyd is the New York Times Bestselling author of novels for young (and young at heart) readers. Her first novel, A Snicker of Magic, was an ALA Notable Book, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a top 10 Kids Indie Next Pick and an NPR, iBooks and Parents Magazine best book of the year for children. Natalie’s other novels include The Key to Extraordinary (Scholastic 2016), The Problim Children series (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen 2017), and Over the Moon (Scholastic in 2019). These novels have won accolades from Entertainment Weekly, Junior Library Guild, SIBA, and Bank Street College of Education, among others. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee with her husband and their dogs.
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