The Library Files: Part 1

“Mummy, I want to go to the library and read books.”

It’s a pretty common request from my four-year-old. Every time he asks, I swoon.

He loves being surrounded by books and he’s a reader like me.

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The library is a part of our lives, an adventure in our day. It has been for a very long time.

Any place filled with books is magical but there’s something even more magical about the library. It’s accessible, open to everyone; a place where anyone can lose themselves in the pages of a book. You don’t need a single dollar in your pocket. And I love that so very much.

When my son demands a visit to the library, I never say no.

We are blessed with three local libraries all in close distance.

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We’ll usually jump in the cargo bike, bring our many green bags and set off into the day. Sometimes we won’t emerge for hours. Hours spent traipsing through the zillions of kids’ books; flicking the pages and taking in the pictures. We make ‘our’ pile, a shortlist of favourites. We curl up in the beanbags or in the special colourful corners and we read together with hushed voices. We love the quietude, the comfort, the familiar faces and the books that we always want to re-borrow.

It’s our little slice of heaven.

I’ll never forget the day my son got his own library card; the proud look on his face would’ve made anyone think he had just been given a key to the city. I was pretty happy, too. It meant mummy could actually borrow some adult books, her card now a little freer. I am sure my son slept with the library card underneath his pillow that night.

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He is always free to choose whichever books he wants but being a big kid myself, and a grand lover of children’s literature, I always sneak in a few mummy choices. I pick them to read with him, to share with him a message I want him to absorb. But I pick them just as much for me.

I have a sway toward books that have that perfect harmony between good storytelling and incredible art and design. I am more than chuffed that my son and I share equal enthusiasm for the work of Oliver Jeffers and I can’t wait for the day that he starts to fully grasp the wonderment of Shaun Tan.

Finding good books is a magic that needs to be shared. And so I decided to start the library file posts, a place where we can share our finds and share the magic and curiosity that we bring home with us from our visits to the library. The books in the library files are ones that have truly stolen our hearts, made us sigh deeply and blissed out our eyes.

Today, I share with you…

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintosh

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Written and illustrated by David Mackintosh, a Belfast-born and Australian-bred Londonite, Marshall Armstrong is a book you simply cannot avoid falling in love with. Told through the eyes of a young schoolboy, who introduces us to Marshall Armstrong as the boy who is new to his school. The teacher asks Marshall to sit up the front next to the boy until he settles in.

The schoolboy doesn’t seem to think much of Marshall and if he thought anything at all it’s that Marshall is a little weird. He tells us about Marshall’s obscurities – how he looks different and has different things, how his ears look like shells and his freckles like birdseed on his nose. We learn that Marshall eats space food that comes in silver wrappers and how he doesn’t like the sun much because of the ozone layer.

Marshall Armstrong just doesn’t fit in at the school, at least until his birthday comes around.

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Marshall invites his whole class, but no one really wants to go. They think the party will be weird and boring, just like Marshall. But they quickly realise that they were wrong to make such assumptions about Marshall and realise that not everybody is as they seem. Marshall’s house is full of interesting things – a fireman’s pole, observatory decks, monkey bars, jungle tenets, piano concerts, telescopes and microscopes and a whole lot of love.

The schoolboy and all of his classmates leave the party thinking Marshall is, in fact, great.

And though us readers knew it all along, we finish the book thinking Marshall is pretty great too. You can’t help but fall in love with him and even our young narrator. It’s not just the story that makes us fall but Mackintosh’s divinely quirky illustrations – thin detailed lines and sketchy drawings, washed out colours, intricate cartoonish detail, blotches of bold colour and illustrious page layouts all make this book sing.

And who doesn’t love a story with a strong but subtle message that you want your kids to grow up with? Never judge a book by its cover, as they say.

Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

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I first picked Herman and Rosie off the library for no reason other than the luscious deep red spine and the block font. The crocodile and the deer on the front cover, one with an oboe and the other with a microphone, looked pretty cute too. I knew nothing else about it.

I’ve never been happier to take a book home and unearth its pages. I’m a tragic romantic, a believer in the magic and beauty that unravels throughout this book.

This is a love story that will tap into the hearts of new and old romantics.

Herman Schubert (the very suave crocodile) and Rosie Bloom (the dainty deer), live in two small apartments, in buildings that neighbour each other. They loved the hustle and bustle of the city but knew that it could sometimes be a lonely place. They both sought comfort in their individual lives – Herman was a salesman and while I didn’t much like the selling part, he loved talking to customers. Rosie worked in a fine uptown restaurant, but lived for Thursday nights when she sang at a downtown jazz club.

Despite living so close to each other, Herman and Rosie were strangers; until the night Herman walked past the jazz club and heard a voice that made him felt like he had just eaten honey straight from the jar. He walked home that night with the singing in his head, inspiring him to take out his oboe and play a little jazz number on the roof. Rosie, now home from her gig at the club, listened from her apartment as the oboe music filled her bathroom.

Rosie hummed the divine music so it would never be lost.

The music followed Herman and Rosie for days – Rosie kept hearing the groovy tune and Herman kept hearing the voice like honey. Everywhere.

But one day, the music got lost. Herman lost his job (he was talking too much to customers and not selling enough) and Rosie lost her singing gig at the club (not enough people watching despite her singing up a storm). Herman didn’t feel like playing his oboe and Rosie didn’t feel like singing. Instead, they let the loneliness of the city swallow them into their apartments for days and nights and weeks.

But one morning, something changed. Rosie woke up craving her favourite toffee and Herman woke up craving his wild boysenberry yoghurt. Their spirits were back. The sun was shining outside and they walked and walked, all over the city, until their paths crossed at the hotdog stand, and passed once again.

The day, just as it was, made Herman get out his oboe and play on the roof. Rosie listened as that sweet melody filled her kitchen while she flipped pancakes. She dropped the frypan and followed the tune – out, up and over – until there he was, Herman and his oboe on the rooftop.

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Rosie found Herman. And Herman found Rosie.

The city was never quite the same again.

And I was never quite the same again after reading this book. After finishing it, I had that warm heart buzz, that gooey sensational feeling of being loved up – just like Herman and Rosie. What a magical story, one that makes us remember that feeling that should never be forgotten – that magic exists everywhere, we just have to follow it.

You’ll love Herman, you’ll love Rosie, you’ll love their music and the city they live in and their quirky little tastes (sometimes the same) and just everything about them. And what will make you love it all even more are Gus Gordon’s illustrations – delightful and whimsical, rich with deep colours that tell of mood and feeling, full of quirky little handwritten notes and drawings, collaged maps and cityscapes, telling character depictions and heartiness that is not always easy to capture.

You, too, will never be the same again after reading this.

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