The Private Lives of Books

You rarely know what becomes of your book once it goes to live on other people’s shelves. Sure, you hope it is treasured, read and re-read. But mostly books don’t write home after they leave.

Luckily, every now and then I hear about one of my books’ lives out there in the world. Like this story.

A young mother who has three kids under the age of 7 told me how they played Zelda and Ivy and the Boy Next Door. I assumed the oldest, Betsy, would have played the bossy older sister Zelda. But Betsy was magnanimous and let her younger brother, David, 5, play Zelda. She assigned the youngest, Gus, 3, the role of the owl who is featured only in illustrations (see above).

The kids set up their sleeping bags and acted out the third chapter, “Camping Out,” in which Zelda sings Ivy to sleep while watching for shooting stars. Their mother fed them the lines, which they repeated, adding actions. David belted out The Ants Go Marching One by One and Take Me Out to the Ballgame, but was less sure of The Star Spangled Banner.

I like to imagine them in their living room: David/Zelda and Betsy/Ivy tucked in their sleeping bags, Gus the owl perched on the top of the sofa; kids and mom engaged. My book having a great life.

8 responses to “The Private Lives of Books

  1. It is such a joy when, every once in awhile, we hear about how a book we have written and/or illustrated has touched children’s lives. Recently a received an extraordinary e-mail from a man whose grandmother had bought a book I illustrated when he was three. Whenever he visited her, she would read this little set of books, and they became his favorites (I’m sure having a beloved grandmother reading them was a big part of that). He grew up and went to school and got married but he never forgot this little set of books, now long out of print. When his grandmother died his mom kept them for him for the time when he might have his own family. It has been 40 years since he was three, but he did get married and now has a little boy. Guess which book he asks to have read to him most often? That same little set of tiny books that I Illustrated so long ago has begun a new journey in the life of another child. To me this is a testament to the power of books, not just as stories but also as beloved objects that children think of as companions. No matter how enticing the “bells and whistles” of an app or e-book are, I doubt they’ll have the staying power to last 40 years!

  2. Laura, a lovely post. Makes me want to grab my sleeping bag, too. I love your work.

  3. What a charming story, Laura. Long Live The Fox Sisters!
    Having worked as a free-lance illustrator for many years before getting my first picture book job, I think that part of the allure of children’s books is the idea that what you create will have a life of its own beyond you. It’s exciting to hear how others enjoy, and utilize, what you imagined in their own creative adventures!

  4. Susan Fletcher

    I love this, Laura! I can’t think of a better life for a book. I think my best “secret life” story is the time when my aunt looked for DRAGON’S MILK in the Princeton library and was told it was on the “dirty books” shelf. She was shocked, as she didn’t know I wrote that kind of book, until they told her it had been circulating quite a bit and literally needed to be cleaned.

  5. So wonderful to see that your books are doing exactly what children book authors hope- fueling imaginations and delighting the hearts of readers. Your post title made me think, too, of the life of beloved books when they are not on the shelf- i.e. on a bedroom floor, tucked up under the arm of a little one, splayed beneath a bedsheet being read by candlelight, or wedged between the cushions of a couch where it was read the night before. I think of our own family favorites displayed in not-so-small collections throughout the house- reminders of not only the stories within, but also of the times and places they were read and the darling faces that read them. Thanks for conjuring up the sweet memories, Laura.

  6. SO wonderful! I especially love the thought of that three year old “owl”!

  7. My girls have done the same with Zelda and Ivy, although our re-creation of choice was from “Plan B” — camping in. A gas fireplace isn’t quite the same as the real deal, but not so for a 3- and 5-year-old. They were fully into it. This household loves your books, too!

  8. A wonderful post, Laura. And I love all of the comments, too. Susan — you dirty writer, you!

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