Monday, 27 October 2014

An Ode to Libraries - Wendy Meddour

This month we are delighted to have Wendy Meddour as our guest blogger. Wendy spent many years teaching English Literature at Oxford University but took a little break so she could concentrate on writing children's books. Only (thankfully for us readers) that little break turned into a big break and, though she's back teaching at university, she still loves writing for children and really can't stop.

I wrote 'How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel' before they started shutting them all down! I hadn’t planned to write a book ‘with a message’. I was just writing a love letter to the places I loved:

The library was always a magical place for me. And on occasion, it was also my child-minder. I hated going into the city centre when I was little. All those stuffy shops, shopping bags and legs. So when Mum needed to go and wrestle with the crowds, I would ask her to leave me in the children’s section, cross-legged on the floor reading books. (What can I say? Things were different then). It was one of the highlights of my week. Shelves upon shelves of colour and thought – just waiting for me to jump in and get lost.

The library was my ‘Faraway Tree’: I’d climb its branches and know that it would always take me somewhere new. It was my passport and the place of my dreams. And I was allowed to take some of those journeys home. For free! Those childhood years, in which I sat cross-legged on the floor reading books (instead of being bruised by shopping bags) led me to where I am now ...  

I took my paper pockets of thought home and read them in the top of the airing cupboard. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a sociable soul and my outside-of-the-airing-cupboard childhood was a very happy place. But whilst I was curled up on the top shelf behind the towels, reading book upon book upon book, I learnt empathy, humour, compassion & escape! For a child in a fairly cramped space, my world became extraordinarily large. This undoubtedly helped me on my way. I did pretty well at school. I travelled. I married someone from completely somewhere else. I got a doctorate and taught English at Oxford University. I made a living out of reading and writing books! Libraries led to lots of good stuff. In fact, I hold libraries and their contents largely responsible for the shape and colour of my life! And my life to date has been rather colourful. So thank-you libraries - you were my Mrs Doubtfire. My Faraway Tree. My very own Nanny McFee. 

To conclude a post about libraries, it seems appropriate to end with 'Story Time'. So here's a little snippet from the end of my picture book. Beautifully illustrated by the very brilliant Rebecca Ashdown, it says all I want to say:

Now Rapunzel has changed and it makes her wince,
to think that she used to just wait for a prince!
That she used to just sit.
That she didn’t move –
with nowhere to go and nothing to prove!

For now she reads three books every night
Under the beam of her bedside light:
She can tell you the distance to the moon,
    she can do Scottish dancing & play the bassoon.
She can speak in four languages, skip and play chess,
she can knit tiny egg cups and cross stitch a dress,
She knows the difference between crows and rooks –
And all because of ...


So don’t just wait for a prince to show,
He might turn up, but you never know.
Just pop to your library and borrow a book –
There’s so much to find out if only you look:
But don’t just sit and wait and stare . . .

When there’s more to life than growing your hair!

To keep up to date with The Bookseller’s campaign on Twitter, follow: @fight4libraries

To keep up with me (now I'm out of the airing cupboard), click here

To read a great article about libraries by Neil Gaiman, click here 

And to see a jolly photo of Einstein, don't go anywhere! 


  1. A lovely article. Thank you, Wendy. The library was a wonderful place for me, too, as a child. It breaks my heart to think that children might not get the opportunity to visit such an important well of creativity, and I think their demise is already having a big effect on social mobility in this country.

  2. Hooray for this fantastic post! Hooray for libraries! And hooray for airing cupboards - there must be something about them because I used to hide in one too (mainly to escape from my 5 younger sisters). Your Rapunzel is a gorgeous book with a very important message :)

  3. I used to teach in a local college and would send the students off to the library for research. My heart would sink when they returned with pages printed off in the computer suite section of the library. I'd ask why they hadn't borrowed any books. One of the stock replies would be there weren't any books on the subject they needed. I'd ask if they'd looked in the 700s (most of my students needed the 749s). Their faces would drop and I'd be asked how I knew the numbers. My stock reply was I'd spent a lot of time in the library during my childhood and when I was at university (mostly in the 550s - 590s).

  4. Lovely! And so very right. Thank you, Wendy.

  5. My pleasure - thank you for having me as a 'guest'. And it's great to hear all your library stories on FB, twitter and here! xx

  6. A lovely post which reminds everyone of the important - and magic - of libraries. I'm a public librarian and see their positive impact every day, on the very young to the very old. I may also order your book for my branches :-) Regards, Ian of Public Libraries News

  7. Funnily enough, I've just got back from my local library with the children. I lived in the same road as my library as a child, so I treated it like a second home. It's where I discovered Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl, Nina Bawden, Joan Aiken - along with independence, magic and wonder. We were only allowed to withdraw three books at once then. But that suited me fine as it gave permission to go back more often! Thank you for writing this book Wendy! X

  8. Hooray for libraries, Wendy, and hooray that it worked so wonderfully for you. It's so sad to think what is being lost by the loss of libraries. I was part of the Fantastic Fun with Words -Warwickshire's annual children's book festival held in libraries across Warwickshire last week. It's such a joy to spend time in different libraries and enjoy them with the children. You've given me the push I need to edit my library story which is with an editor at the moment. Hooray for libraries! Clare x

  9. Thanks guys. And good luck with that book, Clare! x