As many of you know, Newbery medalist Sid Fleischman recently passed away. During his long career, Sid wrote many wonderful fiction and nonfiction books. Among his nonfiction titles were brilliant biographies of Mark Twain and Harry Houdini. Studying these books has helped to make me a better writer.
But before I was a writer, I was a reader. And I have Sid Fleischman and an astute librarian named Carol Freeborn to thank for that.
As a child, I was labeled a reluctant reader. But Mrs. Freeborn didn’t believe in labels. She knew that a reluctant reader can quickly transform into a voracious reader. All it takes is the right book.
One day she handed me Mr. Mysterious & Company, Sid Fleischman’s first book for children. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I sat down in one of the library’s comfy chairs and started to read while I waited for my dad to come and pick me up.
Simply put, that book had me at hello. Its combination of intriguing setting, quirky characters, and magic grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I loved it. I devoured the book. And as soon as I was done, I turned back to page 1 and read it again. And again. And again.
I checked that book out so many times that Mrs. Freeborn finally told me I could keep it. I still have it today. That’s the power of a great book, and a great librarian. Thank you, Mrs. Freeborn.
For me, the transformative book happened to be fiction. But for some kids, the magical book that opens the doors to a whole new world is nonfiction. How do I know? Because once in a while, I get a letter or email from an adult who tells me the tremendous impact one of my books has had on a child they know.
Like my well-worn copy of Mr. Mysterious & Company, I treasure those notes. They provide tangible evidence that the right book at the right moment can make all the difference. No one knows that better than librarians. That’s why we need them.