Last week we were on holiday in a county where 9 libraries have had their funding withdrawn. If volunteers can’t be found (putting aside the whole issue of whether volunteers running libraries is a good thing) the libraries, more than a quarter of all the libraries in the county in question, will shut their doors for a final time within a year.
The message this sends out to me is “We, the powers that be, don’t care about imagination, exploration, understanding. We don’t care about community.”
And yet, without imagination, exploration, understanding and community what sort of life would we lead? Would it be the sort of life we want to lead?
A great deal of what I document here on the blog is about how books spark our family’s imagination, encourage us to explore and help us to understand the world around us. The blog is important to me as it helps create, bring together and nurture a community that I’m delighted to be a part of.
And whilst many of the books I review here are ones I’ve bought or been sent, it’s the library that is the backbone of so much that I do with the kids. It’s the library I turn to for books on crafty projects, it’s the library I turn to for books recommended by readers of this blog, it’s the library I turn to to find older books by authors who are new discoveries to us, it’s the library I turn to for browsing which sparks ideas, thoughts and eventual adventures which end up here on the blog.
It’s the library that I hope you first turn to when you read a review here of a book you think sounds wonderful.
So when I read Otto the Book Bear, the latest book by Katie Cleminson, I hugged it! It’s a book about the magic of libraries and the life book characters can lead. It’s about the joy of being read (and as a writer, if only of a blog, I definitely appreciate this), and it’s beautiful, tender and full of optimism.
Otto is a book bear with a special secret. Although he is “at his happiest when children read his book“, when no-one is looking he can escape the pages of his books and come to life. This ex-folio exploration is lots of fun until the day his book is packed up and taken away before Otto can return to the safety of his pages.
He searches and searches for a new home but without success. Just as he is on the verge of giving up, Otto sees “a place that looked full of light and hope“. Given my preamble above I’m sure you can guess what sort of building this might be; yes – a building full of books, imagination and friendship – a library.
Otto is thrilled with his new home, and the friends he makes from other books but best of all, “now Otto had lots of readers – and that made him the happiest book bear of all.”
If you read my review of Eleanor’s Secret and how we bought our favourite book characters to life, you won’t be surprised to learn that the story of Otto went straight to my heart. It’s a perfect story about the power of books and reading. Katie’s illustrations are full of space, gentle colour and apparent simplicity. She also has a real way with drawing animals – Otto is a very handsome bear, a bear that you’ll want to hug and make space for on your bookshelves.
If you’re not convinced by my review of Otto the Book Bear, take a read of what Melanie has to say at her blog Library Mice.
Inspired by this particular illustration below in Otto the Book Bear…
…and the idea of wallpaper which looks like bookshelves (for example, this from Abigail Ahern, this from Deborah Bowness, this from Tracy Kendall, this from Bouf, or this from Brunschwig & Fils) we set about making our own sheet of bookshelf wallpaper.
On a length of thick lining paper (butcher paper would do too) we painted a few shelves and book outlines using Katie Cleminson’s illustration to guide us…
Next we gave our books beautiful covers…
Then we gave our books titles…
Then the girls coloured in some of their favourite author/illustrator activity sheets from those I’ve been linking to here on Playing by the book. We cut out the characters and added them to our bookshelves so they could come to life and meet each other.
We don’t have much spare wall space in our house what with real bookshelves and lots of kids’ artwork, but we found a good place to hang our new set of shelves – in the stair well!
I think this would make a great class project for decorating a school library or assembly hall and in fact I think I shall be reusing the idea when it comes to Children’s Book Week at M and J’s school in October.
Whilst making our bookshelves we listened to:
Other activities which you could try out alongside reading Otto the Book Bear include:
What’s your favourite thing about your local library? What recent library find has brightened your day?
Disclosure: I received Otto the Book Bear gratis from the publisher. This review, however, reflects my own and honest opinion. Views expressed in this post are mine and do not necessarily represent those held by the author of Otto the Book Bear.