Do you wanna build a library?

Do you wanna fill it full of books? Do you wanna make it so, that every child who comes in won’t know where to look?

But where would you begin? It’s hard to know how to ‘start’ a library when there’s so much in the world of children’s literature and there’s so much of it that’s good. I used to work in a public library and one of the key things I did was help break down the ‘intimidation’ of literature. Because it can be intimidating – a sea of shelves, of spines – where do you start? And where are you allowed to start?

So prompted by this (and also through a chat with the splendid @yayeahyeah ), I decided to try and break it down.

You know that every summer you get those how to pack your suitcase articles? One top that does three hundred occasions, and one skirt that acts as both skirt, beach towel, parachute, etc, etc? Well this is the textual equivalent of that. Here are ten titles which I reckon could start off as a solid core for a library.

And for emotionally traumatising them, but that’s another story (badumtish).

One last thing to note is that I’ve presupposed a mixed sex, teenage, comfortable with regards to budget (ha, I know) environment for this library. I will hopefully do a picture book / early readers equivalent post in the future so look out for that!

1. David Almond – Slog’s Dad / The Savage. One of the great things about David Almond’s work with Dave McKean is the sense of rooted magic in the texts. That’s an almost contradictory statement, I know, but it’s accurate. These books are set in real life, in the streets that we walk home from school and in the benches that we sit on in the park, but then, because it’s Almond / McKean, we get the injection of magic. The look and look again of strange unreality. The realisation that magic, that imagination and fantasy can exist with the lives we lead. Not against them. With them. And that’s something great and amazing.

2. Michelle Magorian – A Little Love Song / Back Home. Magorian’s great gift as a writer is to give you a sort of pure warmth and great truth, and to often do so in the same moment. Her female characters are beautiful; Rose in A Little Love Song and Rusty in Back Home are brave and foolish and loving and real. And it’s so important to read about women, about girls, who are like that. Who don’t spend their lives being defined by others, who learn that it’s about being defined by yourself, about what you do, that matters.

 3.Gregory Hughes – Unhooking the Moon / Summertime of the Dead. If it’s important to read about women, then it’s also important to acknowledge that the reverse is true. Boys, young men, adults, they all need to read about people who reflect and refract their life and their choices back at them. Hughes writes eloquent, fairy tale-esque, brave stories about relationships and family and love, and the men in his books (for they might not start as men, but they certainly end as men) are outstanding and heartbreaking and perfect.

4. Mal Peet – Life : an exploded diagram / Tamar. I don’t think Peet is the easiest to read at times but he is perhaps one of the most rewarding of authors to read. These two books cover substantially different topics and periods but I think that one of their common factors is this: that they do not shy away from what the world can be. The characters in both are so real, so bluntly, hardly real in moments, that they almost fall off the page. Peet is one of those authors to read when you are straining at the edges of the world.

5. Sarah Crossan – The Weight of Water; Frank Cottrell Boyce – The Unforgotten Coat. Both Boyce and Crossan write with such elegance, such deft wordmanship, that these books about finding your way in the world are a moving and wonderful joy to read. Crossan’s debut novel is written all in blank verse, wryly humorous at points and painfully stark at others. Her use of language and her restraint in the use of that language is outstanding. I think restraint is a good word to use when describing Cottrell Boyce’s beautiful The Unforgotten Coat. It’s amazingly put together, from his subtle and empathetic word pla to clever design, and hits far beyond its weight.

I think one key thing all the above books share is that they reflect the potential of literature. They take the written word and they burst in a thousand different directions. They all show what can be done in the book space – and if that’s not a great thing to use as a kernel for a library, then I don’t know what is…

And now, here’s the part where you come in … tell me what you’d add!

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