howtogrowafriend January 06


My Own Library by Sara Gillingham

Well, hello, Nerdy Book Club! I’m guessing that a lot of us were avid readers, possibly even book-hoarders when we were young. And, probably have some words and pictures from those children’s books etched in our brains. I have a lot of new words and pictures mixed in with the old, thanks to my two children and my work, so it’s all getting a bit crowded in there. But from my own childhood, what remains are mostly pictures.



The kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk! scene in Blueberries for Sal, the birthday party in Richard Scarry’s Chipmunk’s ABC, the Feathered Croonie image from Mercer Mayer’s Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo. This may or may not reflect well on me as a creator of children’s books, but that’s really what’s in the vault.


The other thing I unearthed from my brain as I was preparing to write this was the fact that I’ve actually been working in children’s books since I was a child myself.


It was 1984. I was self-employed. And the work was unpaid. But I was nine-years-old and working recess and lunch hour: running my own library.


I had just moved to a new school, and felt that the selection of Choose Your Own Adventure books in the library was sorely lacking (kudos to the librarian, who was focused on higher quality literature). In any case, my blessed teacher agreed to let me use a corner of the classroom (with shelf space!), so that I could set up a library “for the people” (of my grade 5 class). I am a designer by trade, so as you might imagine, the handmade cardboard desk, signage and office supplies were of critical importance to establish my presence in the classroom.


I gathered books from my personal library, along with donations from interested parties in the class, marked the collection using red dots from the office supply store, reinforced with scotch tape, and voilà: Sara G’s Library was born. I soon realized that I would need a team of helpers to track the inventory, run the “Bookworm of the Month” competitions, and work the front desk. It was easy to find willing parties, but they didn’t like the idea of having a boss, so, more books and series were incorporated, and we formed a collective and re-branded the library S.A.L.I.D. K. (Yes, this is pronounced Salad K, and yes, this is an acronym based on the first letters of each of our names).


I’m not sure exactly how long the enterprise lasted, but we had a great run. The eventual demise of the library was marked by structural issues with the cardboard desk, and a sagging interest in Choose Your Own Adventures.


Through a desire for a more active role in publishing, the collective known as S.A.L.I.D. K. went on to start a magazine called Monster Digest. And it was pretty amazing. But we never made it past the first issue; possibly, we all just wanted to get back to our reading. And, in my case, I had a side business sewing 80s “stretch pants” (now known as leggings) for my classmates, that I was eager to jump into, so to speak.


As it turns out, the stretch pant business was short-lived, too. But eventually, I came back to the world of children’s books, and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

howtogrowafriendSara Gillingham is an award-winning art director, designer and the author/illustrator of books such as: How to Grow a Friend and Snuggle the Baby. She can be found online at and on Twitter as @SaraGStudio





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