It all began with a jokey conversation on Twitter.
Polly (who has her début collection of stories, Mango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig, out this September, illustrated by Clara Vulliamy) shared a picture of an igloo built of books and from there, things pretty quickly spiralled out of control.
I just knew I had to build something out of books. It was one of those moments where you are vaguely aware that the idea is slightly bonkers but you know the thought won’t leave you alone until you succumb to it.
And so it was I set about planning to build a book den out of books, using the opportunity to raise some funds for a charity I’ve a long-standing relationship with, Book Aid International.
First I did my research and scoured the web for other buildings made from books.
Then I started stockpiling books from all over my home in one place.
It was rather disconcerting to see my shelves gradually empty.
I stocked up on coffee and cake and then World Book Day arrived.
It was time to start building.
The kitchen table was dismantled to create enough space for the den; I knew I wanted it to be large enough to comfortably sit inside and read.
Then building began in earnest. I used encyclopedias and other large non-fiction books to create foundations. The big Dorling Kindersley books were excellent for providing stability!
Although my hands got very dry handling all the books, and there were dust fairies flying everywhere, it was a sheer delight to go through my books, remembering when and where I’d read them, who had given them to me, who I’d given copies to. It was a little like watching my life on a screen before me, going through so many memories of people, places and times.
Much as I adore picture books, I soon learned that paperback picture books are not the best thing to build with; you need about a zillion to gain any height, and they tend to be rather slippy. Topsy and Tim books and Beatrix Potter books worked excellently for chinking, but the books I really loved building with were great tomes like SF Said’s Phoenix, or Marcus Alexander’s Charlie Keeper books; these are not only immensely satisfying to read, they give you a real sense of achievement and reliable strength when building!
My biggest worry in all the building was the roof. I really wanted to build using the fabulous technique seen in Maes Howe and other chambered cairns I’ve visited in Orkney, a technique known as corbelling (here’s a good example, and one I’m hoping to revisit this summer), but I felt that for safety’s sake I had to go for something more lightweight.
Thanks to inspiration from my engineer Dad I decided to give magazine and comic tiling a go instead. And I’m very pleased I did so! (Thanks, Dad!)
All in all, once the books were stockpiled, it took me about five hours to build. It’s only up for 24 hours, but we’ve made excellent use of it in this time.
We’ve eaten in it, read in it, simply relaxed in it, giggled in it and generally had a VERY good time!
Late last night I was going to treat myself to a glass of wine and a little bit of piece and quiet in it, but when I went into the kitchen I found my eldest has snuck out of bed to read in it!
I left her to it and took my wine elsewhere 🙂
And now it is the morning after the night before and shortly I’ll begin dismantling my dear book den. But what did I learn in the process? What are my top tips for building with books?
NOW. Before you click on to your next blog or read your next email, here comes the serious bit.
I did all of this to raise funds for Book Aid International, and it’s not too late to add a small donation (you can donate from anywhere in the world, in several local currencies):
If you’ve ever enjoyed my blog or my banter on Twitter, please consider donating a small amount today. Book Aid International works in partnership with libraries in Africa, including in Zambia where I was born (hence my support of this charity), providing books, resources and training to support an environment in which reading for pleasure, study and lifelong learning can flourish.
I want to say an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who has already donated, including Daisy, Katherine, Anamaria, Elli, Zehra, Damyanti, Catherine, Polly, Jonathan, Ann, Helen, Anabel, Melanie, Abi, Book Island, my parents, my sister, Emma, Clare, Colin, Anne-Marie, Lizz, Natalie, Maxine, Sara, Kate, Bea, Tasha, Sam, Susie, Sandra, SF, Christine, James, Anne, Dan, @storyvilled, Alex, Nicky, @OlivaceousD and all the anonymous donors. YOU are the real stars in all of this.