For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you might be aware that I started building a tree earlier this year in the library where I work. Well, with a lot of effort and help from an amazing artist, Nicci, and my daughter, Savi, we finished her. She now resides in her little alcove where we used to have an ICT suite, recumbent against a mural backdrop of a forest filled with dappled light and birch trees. Her branches reach up to the ceiling and give the impression that she has broken through to find the blue sky above.
Some of the teachers and parents smile and nod when I try to explain why I would build a tree in a library and my answer is, why not? We need to motivate our children to read and enjoy books. What better way than bringing in a source of old stories, fairytales, adventures and the paper the books are printed on…a tree! Putting it in such a simple way demeans the principle of Grandmother Tree’s existence. She has created a space where children can laugh and play under the safety of her branches. They cuddle Sir Sid Quirell, the resident squirrel and postman who helps deliver the letters written to children who have re-discovered the art of writing letters to their beloved tree. Grandmother Tree might understand technology, but relies on corresponding through the written word and pictures sent her way by the postbox next to her tree trunk.
The children are waiting to hear her story. They want to know her age and what she has seen in her lifetime, the books she has read and whether or not she has met Dr Who! Their excitement and fervour to write about themselves and their likes and dislikes encourage this old tree to share her tales. When the time comes to comfort a child or calm the storm clouds threatening tantrums, what better way than sitting on the bench near her and discussing their troubles?
As a librarian, I try to encourage children to respect books, read them and return them to the library. With Jabba the Postbox ready to accept returns and Grandmother Tree aware of the children’s efforts to read more, I have more books returning each week than I have had in the past two years running the library. It’s a positive effect that is pleasing to teachers and children alike. It reduces disappointment when they are refused a new book until they return their old one.
Yes, I realise that the novelty of having a tree in the library with slowly taper off. But, as we reach a new season, she will change her leaves, adopt the persona of a snow queen or a cherry blossom as the seasons demand. The carpet will soon turn green and lush with artificial grass so that the children can honestly be swept away from the world when they enter their own magical forest in their school library. Now, who said a librarian’s job is boring!