Save our Libraries! Reserve this book today!

posted in: 2011, Katie Cleminson | 16

Last week we were on holiday in a county where 9 libraries have had their funding withdrawn.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.

Image: Phil Bradley

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:

  • The Crazy Otto Medley, a fun ragtime mix – I can just imagine Otto the bear dancing to this on the library bookshelves with his new-found friends
  • Book Of Love by The Monotones
  • The original version of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic by Val Rosing With the Henry Hall Orchestra
  • I Love My Library by Lunch Money

  • Other activities which you could try out alongside reading Otto the Book Bear include:

  • Bringing book characters to life, like we did here
  • Role-playing libraries, like we did here
  • Making your own red bag just like Otto’s – there’s a good tutorial for this style of bag here at Salty Pineapple
  • Reading Philip Pullman’s defence of public libraries
  • Doing a librarithon. We had enormous fun doing ours!

  • 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.

    16 Responses

    1. sandhya

      A very heartfelt post! I was reminded irresistably of Michael Morpurgo’s “I believe in unicorns.” The world would be a different place indeed, without libraries.

    2. Zoe

      Thanks as always Sandhya for your comment. Yes, a heartfelt post indeed. Hope you can find Katie’s book in India as it’s just lovely!

    3. ruth

      great post, and the campaign to save libraries is incredibly important. I particularly like the direct action idea of people getting together and taking all the books out in one week, to show how much everyone values the library.

    4. Isil

      Zoe, this is such a beautiful post. I LOVE your artwork. Will definitely look up this book and read with D. Thank you.

    5. Franny

      “And yet, without imagination, exploration, understanding…” totally agree with your sentiments.
      Adore your new bookshelves…great to see barbapapa characters in there, I love them!
      A thorough & enjoyable post, always a pleasure!

    6. Zoe

      Thanks so much Ruth, Isil and Franny for such kind words. It’s easy to write a post when the book is so beautiful and really touches my heart! And do try making your own wallpaper – we had such fun with ours and it looks really great (if I’m allowed to say that of my own kids’ work!)

    7. Choxbox

      What a phenomenal idea! Sounds like a lovely book!

      But Zoe, why are the libraries being shut down??? They are the one big thing we miss from our London years.

      • Zoe

        To cut a long story short Choxbox, the govt has made huge cuts to local govt. budgets and many (though not all) local councils are seeing libraries as a sort target for cutting and thereby saving the money they need. A good source of information is esp Birmingham (where I am) isn’t closing any libraries, but many are having their hours cut (and my local library has closed – asbestos was found, and now of course they can’t find the money to clean it up so although not closed originally in the name of budget cuts, it is effectively closed because of budget cuts). If you look at this map you’ll see that quite a lot of london libraries are under threat of closure. Lots of authors have spoken out against this – do read the article by Philip Pullman above as it’s (unsurprisingly) very eloquent.

    8. Dragonrider

      I love, love, love the bookshelf wallpaper! What a fantastic idea.
      I am right on the front line of Library closures – we have just had a massive round of voluntary redundancies here in Birmingham and our own company, Stories from the web, which has been working in partnership with libraries for over 10 years developing children as lifelong readers, is facing very uncertain times. This summer will make or break us possibly. The ripples from library closures will continue to affect our society widely and for many years to come.

    9. Good Books For Young Souls

      I love your bookshelf wallpaper and can’t wait to get my hands on the OTTO book! Maybe someday he’ll meet up with Patience and Fortitude:
      Your post brightened my day, just like this quote from Lemony Snicket: “A good library will never be too neat, or too dusty, because somebody will always be in it, taking books off the shelves and staying up late reading them.” Let’s hope this is the future of our local libraries for many years to come!

    10. Tasha

      I’m just about to send this post over to my mum Zoe! They have a copy of Otto the Book Bear at their house for Milo and I know that my mum and Milo would love to paint the bookshelves on a rainy day 🙂 Great, great book and a lovely post with gorgeous artwork from your girls!

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