By Jody Casella
A librarian saved my life. I was stuck inside a burning building and she–
No, I’m kidding.
Although, that would make a good story, wouldn’t it? If I described how a librarian lifted me out of the flames and carried me to safety… Even though the librarian in my real story saved my life in a metaphorical way, her actions were no less powerful and life changing.
When I met this librarian, I was a sad little waif of a nine-year-old. My mom was a single parent and I had two younger brothers. For a few years, we did not own a car. We did not have much in terms of entertainment–because we were poor, but also because there weren’t many entertainment options available back then, at least in the technological sense.
As a writer of young adult novels, I often visit schools and tell this story to students. It’s hard for many of them to imagine a world without computers and cell phones and endless entertainment options.
It’s true, I tell them. We had a TV with three channels. And we had books.
There was a library within walking distance of our apartment, and every Saturday my mother would take us there. Because we had to walk, she made a rule: my brothers and I could check out only as many books as we could carry home.
One Saturday, a librarian noticed me looking over the books and pointed out a few I might like. The next week she asked me what I’d thought about them. She helped me choose a few more.
As time went by, she had a stack of books waiting for me. She always knew what would appeal to me. I liked fantasy mostly, or quiet, sweet, family-oriented stories. I didn’t like horror or intense drama or stressful stuff. I had enough of that in my real life. Books were a nice way for me to escape, and this librarian seemed to understand that.
One day I arrived to find my stack of books waiting and the librarian smiling sadly. This was her last day, she told me. She wouldn’t be working there anymore, but she knew I would be okay picking out books for myself.
I burst into tears.
And here is the part that I find so lovely when I look back now. The librarian took me out to lunch. We walked to a nearby restaurant and while we ate, we did what we had always done during our unlikely friendship: we talked about books.
I never saw the librarian again. I don’t even know what her name is.
I didn’t understand until much later how important she was in my life. She gave me books – books that took me away for just a little while from the real world. Books that helped me learn how to cope. Books that taught me about myself and about other ways of living.
She didn’t save me from a burning building, but she set me on a course that led me to where I am today–still a reader, and now a writer, one who hopes that my stories give other young readers a few hours of entertainment, escape, and hope.
We don’t always know the people we help and the lives we touch. I can’t thank my librarian, but I can follow her example by sharing this story and by sharing books with kids.
What can YOU do today to change the world?
I don’t know. But I know a good place to start …
Put a book into the hands of a child.