Dear School Library,
You might not remember me. Think back. Remember those girls that used to hang out by the nonfiction section hidden in the back, drawing Sharpie tattoos on each other, giggling up a storm and sneaking glances at the boys by the card catalogue?
No. That's not me. I'm the one behind them. In the corner there. Underneath the Reading Rainbow poster. I'm sitting cross legged on the floor with a pile of books stacked beside me like a best buddy. Do you remember me now?
There you go.
You were probably worried I'd get some sort of neck problem, being hunched over like that with the book about three inches from my face. I didn't know yet that I needed glasses, and some stories are worth squinting for.
Now that you know who I am, I wanted to say thank you. It might seem weird. Saying thank you to a room lined with shelves? But to me, you were so much more.
Thank you for your generosity. I demanded a lot of you back then. I wasn't happy with just the book on your shelves. I kept asking for more—for different books, for older books, for newer books, for funny books. I asked for books about brave little girls, or fairies that rode sparrows like horses, or castles built of wishes, or sharks (always sharks!) that I wanted to meet in person one day. A kid's world is a lot bigger when they have a school library to visit.
Thank you for not judging me. You didn't care what I looked like, even though that poodle sweatshirt thing is probably the most ill-advised outfit known to kid-kind. You didn't care that I got a bad grade on my math test (long division was so hard back then!), and you didn't care how popular I was, or wasn't.
And most importantly, thank you for never making me pick a favorite book. You taught me that we can have hundreds of them, depending on the shape of our soul, or the dreams in our heart. These things may change by the hour, and that's okay. You taught me that made-up stories could mean just as much as the ones filled with facts. And you taught me just how magical the sound of a single page turning can be.
To me, my dear school library, you were more than just a room. You were a place I could go to learn anything. To be anybody. You were an open door to the big world outside. That means a lot to a kid in a tiny town with big dreams. You were a ladder to a higher perspective. You were a soft spot to land after an embarrassing moment. You were a mentor with the best advice, an older sibling with the funniest stories, and a mysterious friend filled with secrets hidden behind tattered covers.
Today, I don't get to visit you often. But I know you're there. And I also know that in the hidden corner by the nonfiction section, there is a kid sitting cross legged with a stack of books beside them. They might even be reading a book of mine and giggling away, but the most important thing isn't what they're reading. It's that they're reading. We all owe you for that.
Jess Keating—a lifelong reader and admirer.
I am giving away a copy of How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel.
Rules for the giveaway
1. It will run from 1/7 to 11:59 p.m. on 1/9.
2. You must be at least 13.
3. If you win, please pay it forward.
Borrow How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops.