Becoming a mother can feel a lot like journeying to a foreign country. You enter a land with its own time zone, where the movement of clock hands is as herky-jerky as a babe-in-arm’s. Emotional weather fronts roll in over an unfamiliar landscape in which laundry mountains spring up from nowhere, and the contours of a tiny nose and chin suddenly loom mightier than Everest in your heart. It’s a place with its own customs and national costumes – all that burping, all those burp cloths; a place that has its own language and currency. A lifetime’s absolute enslavement for a gummy first smile? Sign me up, do.
This country also has tribes, otherwise known as baby groups. Oh, the baby groups! Who wouldn’t want to sit on the floor and be addressed in toddler-speak by a grown-up intent on inducting a roomful of hungry, indignant infants into everything from yoga to opera appreciation? Well, me for one. And my baby for another. Even in my love-struck, sleep-starved daze I felt like howling too.
I searched for one – just one – group that didn’t require me to sing along to ‘The Wheels on the Bus’. I searched in vain. Of course, what I really wanted was a baby book group. Not a place to discuss (ugh) sleep training manuals and weaning primers, but somewhere I could go to share in the utter delight of children’s literature in all its guises – sweet and scary, magical and mysterious, funny and poignant and raspberry-blowing rude.
And so came the idea for Littlest Librarian – because honestly, who wants to croak along to another welcome song? I can’t promise to post with any regularity – it’s taken me almost a year to get even this far, kind reader – but I do hope to create a space where we can enthuse about the books we read in childhood and those we’re looking forward to reading to others. And while I can only pour you a virtual glass of wine, I can offer reviews and interviews and other appealing odds and ends to get the conversation started.
What I’m picturing is my local bookshop as a kid. There was a bell above the door and a big polished desk for the till to sit on. Even in my child’s-eye memories there is very little space but it did have a nook devoted to children’s books. It’s where I went for Frog and Toad and then Roald Dahl, where I discovered Judy Blume and picked out the first grown up book that I devoured of my own accord, before it could become homework (Pride and Prejudice – what was yours?).
The tales we encounter as children and teenagers are those that we go on to weave our own life stories around. They offer templates for understanding the world, shaping us in ways that we sometimes don’t appreciate until we get to bring them to life anew for little ears eager to find out where Alice landed when she tumbled down that rabbit hole or what happens when you climb the Faraway Tree.
And here’s the other wondrous thing about children’s literature: it conjures up a world in which anything can (and frequently does) happen. Whether this finds you in a fleeting moment of calm while your toddler naps or at work, scarfing a sandwich at your desk, I hope you’ll linger long enough to remember just what a thrill that can be.
p.s. A confession: while I’ve been a writer, editor and book critic for (gulp) almost 20 years, I’ve little experience of either blogs or book clubs, so please bear with me while I figure it out.
p.p.s. I do know that blogs tend to be intensely personal. And though I’m not averse to spilling (ahem) and there’s likely to be far too much about me on here, this is the one corner of my life in which I’m going to be keeping my daughter in the background. She’s the inspiration behind the title – riffling through my bookshelves from the moment she could pull herself up – and so much more, but her story is hers alone to tell. After all, from Christopher Robin* to Gone Girl’s ‘Amazing Amy’, literature is teeming with children, real and fictional, who’ve been done no favours whatsoever by being made into characters by their scribbling parents!
* For grown-ups, the inimitable Cynthia Ozick has written a wonderful novel inspired by the real-life Christopher Robin’s experiences. It’s called The Bear Boy and I promise you’ll be intrigued.