Book Clutchers by Megan Frazer Blakemore
At the beginning of the school year, in preparation for an upcoming book club, I had the book York: The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby on display at the circulation desk. One of my fifth graders passed by and gave the book a gentle pat. Another child gave a Mercy Watson book a squeeze before sliding it into the book drop.
It’s rare that a week goes by that a child doesn’t clutch a book to their chest and say something like, “I just love this book so much.” These are my book clutchers. Books, I tell them, are my friends, too.
People often ask me if being a parent or a school librarian influences my work. I think they are asking if I try to write for my own children or my students. I don’t. I can’t. It would mean trying to chase a market and that would bring a falseness to my work.
Digging deeper, though, the children I know have a clear influence on my work. I watch my son get sucked into the worlds of his books, whether it’s Harry Potter or the Heroes of Olympus or Amulet. He comes to me as I work at my desk to read passages from these books at such a frantic pace that I have to ask him to slow down and start over.
He talks about these characters as if they are real. One day he came downstairs looking dejected. I asked what was wrong. He told me he was just feeling sad because Jackson had to move out of his apartment and was living in his car again. I wracked my brain trying to figure out which of his friends he was talking about, getting ready to offer Jackson a place to sleep. Then I realized he was talking about the book Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.
My son has read my books. I don’t know if they are special to him for any reason other than that they were written by his mother. But I do believe my books are important to some reader, somewhere. If my children and my students influence me, it’s in this way: I see the way that books matter to them. I see them hug the books and I hear the love in their voices. As I am writing, I remind myself of this: someday, somewhere, some reader may pass by my book and give it a little pat. This is especially useful when writing a challenging book. The Story Web, which is, itself, a book about the power of story, was a difficult one to write. It went through countless revisions with my editor, Mary Kate, as she pushed me to go deeper and truer. On the days when it felt too hard to write this book that was so close to my own heart, I would imagine a child clutching my book to their chest with a deep sigh. That is what keeps me spinning stories.
The boy at the start of this post and my son – they are both big readers, rarely without a book in their hands. But here’s a little secret of book clutchers: it’s not just some kids. It’s all of them. I believe that any kid can be book clutcher, they just need to find the right book. That’s why it’s so important that we as teachers, librarians, and authors keep sharing books. We need to hand these children story after story until each child finds a book that feels like a friend to them. Every child can find a book that they want to give a little pat on the shoulder to as they walk by. Every child can find a book to hug.
Megan Frazer Blakemore is the author of The Firefly Code, The Friendship Riddle, The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, and The Water Castle, which was listed as a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, and as a New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing. She is also the author of the young adult novel Secrets of Truth And Beauty which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was on the ALA Rainbow list. A former middle-school librarian, Megan lives in Maine with her family.
You can find her online at www.meganfrazerblakemore.com