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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Return to The Library

I remember the first book I ever checked out with my own library card. It was The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle and I was seven years old. I was entranced by the Hugh Lofting’s detailed illustrations, by the mysterious word “voyage,” and by the prospect of talking animals! The library, in North Minneapolis, and long-since demolished, was a medieval-looking structure built of huge sandstone blocks and pillars. The separate entrance to the children’s section, which made it all the more appealing, was a low, heavy stone archway at the bottom of a small flight of outdoor steps. My first library, then, was a castle, a dungeon, and a fortress all wrapped up in one imposing edifice.

I was in awe of libraries. They were places of silence. They had weird furniture. One couldn’t go to them alone (well, I was only seven). Countless books lined the shelves, and each one was potentially mine Maybe only for a week, but during that time the book belonged to me, and me alone. It was an odd, sobering, yet exhilarating responsibility.

A few years ago, when I got the chance to write a series for Stone Arch Books that would grab the most reluctant and struggling readers, I naturally thought about what hooked my interest as a young boy. I was not a reluctant reader, but I was definitely picky. So the thought of creating a fantasy series set in the world’s largest and most secretive library immediately got me excited. I was 10 when I saw Howard Hawks’s Land of the Pharaohs starring Joan Collins as an evil Egyptian princess. The pyramid’s deadly maze, hidden passageways, and amazing booby-traps burned into my imagination. (I don’t want to give away the jaw-dropping finale of the film, but I will say that I have had a respect for the power of sand ever since.) The Library of Doom grew out of that enigmatic and colossal structure.

I wrote 12 books in the original Library of Doom series, focusing on monsters and villains that all had some kind of book or library connection – there were deadly bats formed from ripped off pages, bookends that came to life, bookworm creatures that dwelt in hidden caverns and were large enough to devour humans. It was fun to imagine, fun to write, and I have received hundreds of positive responses from librarians, teachers, and parents who told me that their student or child hated to read before he or she picked up one of the Librarian’s adventures.

More recently, I was invited to Return to the Library of Doom. Six more books. But I wanted to do something new. I figured that those students who accompanied my bookish hero through his various escapades could be challenged. They would feel confident enough to attempt a longer story. So the new books are twice as long as the first. And readers will meet new characters, including a super heroine who fights alongside the Librarian and is known as – the Specialist. She owes a little to one of my favorite TV shows growing up, The Avengers, with Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel.

Books have been my companions ever since I opening the cover to a Golden Book (The Color Cats!). Libraries have been my refuge and my inspiration. Writing about the Librarian and his hidden fortress has been a way for me to stay in the library long after closing time. I have never really left.

-Michael Dahl

1 comment:

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Nice post, Michael! I came from a poor background in England. When I moved to the US, and discovered the town library I was in awe of it. I was 8. I spent most Saturday mornings there in the "kid's library."