October 09


Difficult Books, Magical Librarians, and the Kids Who Need by Nikki Loftin

When I was a little girl, I was weird. For one thing, one of my best friends was a tree, a sycamore that grew in my backyard. It had broad green leaves the color of caterpillars, bark that peeled from its trunk in pieces big as dinner plates, and seedpods wrapped in velvet fur. It was quiet and still and a very good listener.

My sycamore was the one I sang to, and told stories to, and when I had really big problems – even very young children can have really big problems – I would tell them to my tree. And I read to it. Fairy tales, picture books, novels, everything I could get my hands on. Sometimes I left the books in its branches, or in the yard, and got in trouble (grounded from books, if you can believe it!). It never stopped me.

Most people thought I was weird for reading so much (and possibly for spending all that time outside, talking to a tree). But one person thought I was wonderful.

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Her name was Mrs. Crabb. She wore glasses, polyester pant suits, and a too-tight perm, but to me she was gorgeous, because every week she saved me, putting treasures in my hands that I couldn’t get anywhere else: books.

Mrs. Crabb was my elementary school librarian, and I have never forgotten her. How could I? When I walked into her library, she didn’t see a ratty-haired, short, smart aleck, probably sent out of the classroom for talking too much. She saw a kindred spirit: a reader. She nourished that, providing perfectly chosen books for me as I grew. Many of those books were fun and light, but some were darker and difficult: A Bridge to Terabithia, A Wrinkle in Time, The Odyssey, Jane Eyre… Those were the books that entranced me, that spoke to the turmoil of my sometimes very difficult childhood. How did she know I needed those? Was she psychic? Was she magical?

Or maybe they all learn that in librarian school, that kids need books not just to entertain, but to find out how to outrun the villains, or better yet – how to fight them.

All I know is that without Mrs. Crabb, I would not have become the reader, the writer, or the person I am today. She gave me what turned out to be my most valuable treasure, a mind full of stories, and introduced me to some of my lifelong friends – the characters in those “hard” stories.

My latest novel, Nightingale’s Nest, was fashioned from my love of books, years of work with disadvantaged children in schools and churches, and my memories of a troubled – yet magical –childhood. It is one of those “difficult” books to read, full of pain and heartache, redemption and forgiveness. It is my hope that children will read it and, like the main characters Gayle and Little John, find their voices to speak about the wonder and the pain of growing up. Even if they can only speak about it to a tree, like I did.

And it is my greater hope that those kids will have a teacher or librarian like Mrs. Crabb, who understands the power of all kinds of books, and who will help them hunt through the stacks, through all those wonderful stories, to find the ones that speak to their souls.



Nikki-030-225x300nightingale's nestNikki Loftin lives with her Scottish photographer husband just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, chickens, and small, loud boys. She is the author of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy and Nightingale’s Nest and the upcoming Wish Girl. You can find her online at nikkiloftin.com and on Twitter as @nikkiloftin