Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Library

I special ordered The Library by Sarah Stewart and David Small from my local children's bookshop. I've been checking (read as scouring) bookstores for years to find a copy and hadn't had any success. I had some extra money and was ready to give up the search. I'm so incredibly excited to own this book but I'm sad that I had to order it. A book this good shouldn't be this hard to find.

The Library tells the story of Elizabeth Brown who started reading at a very early age and never stopped. We see her arrive "skinny, nearsighted, and shy" and watch as she grow up reading book after book after book. She buys them at a terrific rate and reads them while doing her errands or vacuuming. She reads them instead of going on dates. She reads them constantly. And she slowly fills up her house with books. When Elizabeth can no longer find the door, she realizes that she'll have to take drastic action. So she does the only thing she can. She turns her house into a library, moves in with a friend, and spends the rest of her life visiting and reading her books.

This book is an incredible mix of illustration and words, like most of Sarah Stewart's collaborations with her husband David Small. These two work together so seamlessly that it's hard to pull apart which part is more important, the words or the images. Sarah Stewart tells this story in bits of verse, rather then the epistolary style that she used in other books. Most pages have four or five lines that provide snippets into Elizabeth's life, from early age to old age.
"Books were piled on top of chairs
And spread across the floor.
Her shelves began to fall apart,
As she read more and more."
The images that accompany this verse is of stacked of books fitting into every nook and cranny of her living room. The books are stacked on the floor, on the shelves, as end tables. But the readers don't see this as odd. Instead Small's illustrations make the image seem cozy, the kind of house that any reader wouldn't mind spending time in. And that is really the power of this book.

I loved Elizabeth from the beginning mostly because I saw myself in her. She is surrounded by books, teacups, cats, and solitude; and I found myself wanting to step into her world and read with her. She's a character who doesn't worry about her odd lifestyle (a lifestyle I don't find odd, only admirable). She is happy with her books. The verses and the images present a picture of cozy happiness. Any reader will love the images of books filling the house. We see her start with only a few books that she lends out and watch as she gains more and more. She's an eccentric character that doesn't mind being eccentric. With Stewart's verses and Small's cheerful images, we see a character at peace in the world. I was enchanted. I've fallen in love with most of the collaborations between these two (The Journey, The Gardner...) but this story struck a chord with me. A must have for any librarian or regular reader. It's hard not to fall in love with Elizabeth Brown and this book.