Written by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb
These are the terms I mulled over, trying to describe what it is you amazing, magical librarians do every day. But I keep coming back to this one: matchmakers, pure and simple. At the heart of it all, that’s what you do: you match story with student, hoping to find the one – at least one – that will speak to their soul. Soulmates, these students and the stories on your shelves. And you make that magic happen.
My elementary school librarian did exactly that for me. Her name was (is!) Shelia Rollins, and she wove her match-making magic at City Park Elementary in Athens, TN. She knew my reading tastes right away; she introduced me to Donald Sobel’s Encyclopedia Brown series. Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and friends. All things Judy Blume.
And then came “It was a dark and stormy night.” “Read it,” Ms. Rollins said. “You’ll love it.” I looked at the cover of A Wrinkle In Time. It looked new-agey, science-fictiony. I was full of doubt, but Ms. Rollins knew me better than that. She was a matchmaker, after all. “Read it.”
And so I did. And then I devoured every other Madeleine L’Engle book in our library. Who knew SPACE and TIME TRAVEL could be so cool?! But here’s the thing: Ms. Rollins’s magic didn’t stop there. Because she knew that yes, she’d made a reader out of me. But perhaps…there might even be more?
And so Ms. Rollins started writing letters. (This was pre-internet, of course, when letters were still written.) She wrote to the publishing houses of her students’ favorite books. And she asked our favorite authors to join us in a telephone interview.
She lined up Donald Sobel. Betsy Byars. And oh, my heart: she lined up Madeleine L’Engle! I did all the work she required of us to sit in on that phone call (I had to read three books by Ms. L’Engle and write a book report on each.) And then, then?! I got to talk to my favorite author of all time! MADELEINE L’ENGLE!
One of the key things I remember about this call was that it took place over a speaker phone. A speaker phone! It was amazing technology: you would just…talk…and the other person could hear you! It was all very Charlie’s Angels.
But more importantly: Ms. L’Engle told us all about being a writer in that lovely accent of hers (when you grow up in East Tennessee, nearly everyone else in the country sounds different). Her career sounded amazing: reading and using your imagination and working in your pjs! I couldn’t hold it in any longer: “I think I want to be a writer, too, Mrs. L’Engle!” I said. And I pictured her smiling on the other end of the telephone as she answered, “Good for you! Keep reading and you can do it!”
I like to say that I am living proof that authors interacting directly with readers can be a life-changing experience. When Madeleine L’Engle tells you that you, too, can be a writer, you’d best give it a try! And you know what? My first poem, a haiku called “The Weeping Willow,” was published in a student anthology the very next year. I visit a lot of schools now, and I try to pay that same sentiment forward. “Keep reading and you can do it.” I believe it with my whole heart.
So you see, Shelia Rollins didn’t just match me with my favorite stories. She matched me with my career. With storytelling, one of the largest parts of my heart. So it is with my deepest and sincerest gratitude that I say thank you to Ms. Rollins, and thank you to YOU. You know where the dark and stormy nights are, the ones that will sweep your students away. Thank you for that magic.
P.S. Please join us back here NEXT WEEK as the Tennessee Association of School Librarians reveals the cover of my next book, ZEUS, DOG OF CHAOS! Thank you, TASL!
Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of The Story Collector series (The Story Collector and The Story Seeker), A Dog Like Daisy, John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy (written as E.F. Abbott), The 13th Sign, Selling Hope and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different. In Fall 2020, watch for the companion book to A Dog Like Daisy, Zeus, Dog of Chaos. Kristin lives near Nashville, Tennessee with her bouncy-loud family. Just like her two dogs, she can be bribed with cheese.