By Sandy Asher
I love libraries. As a child, I spent hours in the Children’s Reading Room of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Logan Square branch, deposited there by parents needing an afternoon with adult relatives or friends. The library was my shelter, companion, nanny, teacher, and mentor.
Sitting on the floor between stacks, I’d breathe in my favorites: well-worn editions of fairy and folktales of every kind, all dog and horse stories, any book written by Louisa May Alcott or L. Frank Baum. Peter and Wendy. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. A host of friends as near and dear as any of the flesh-and-blood variety.
“The most wonderful thing in the world,” I thought, “would be to write a book, a book someone loved as much as I love these.” I dreamed of returning to that children’s reading room as a grown-up and seeing my own books on those same shelves, nestled among my favorites.
I’ve lived that dream. And I remain ever grateful to libraries. My gratitude has taken many forms over the years, including setting my latest book, CHICKEN STORY TIME, and its stage adaptation in the Children’s Reading Room of a library.
Upon moving to Lancaster, PA, more than a decade ago, I decided to become involved in the community by creating programs for my neighborhood library and for the Lancaster County Library System. I began with on-site writing workshops and also visited schools to encourage first graders to sign up for library cards. I’ve since added arranging events that bring other authors and illustrators to town for workshops, book signings, and a variety of presentations.
Most recently, I spearheaded a “Celebrate Libraries” gala that brought together many Lancaster County libraries, each displaying projects their patrons created in response to my challenge to show appreciation in some unique way — poetry, stories, posters, photos, whatever. My favorites included one library’s first steps toward interviewing area elders about donated historical photographs and a video created by first graders about a librarian’s most unusual day.
Talk about win-win situations! Librarians, patrons, colleagues, and I have all come away with feelings of satisfaction and personal gain.
You would think that’s a natural partnership: a local author and a neighborhood library. But it’s not. Many libraries don’t reach out to local authors. Why? I’m not sure. Certainly, librarians are very busy people. In addition to everyday services, they organize numerous special events of other kinds. Perhaps local authors slip their minds?
Or perhaps they’re hesitant to approach authors, figuring they, too, are busy?
And then there’s the money thing. Librarians don’t have massive discretionary funds at their disposal, and authors do prefer to be paid for presentations. They don’t earn salaries, after all, and time at the library means time away from the computer.
Still, there’s that gratitude. Hard to imagine an author who doesn’t feel it. There is a debt to be paid. And one’s neighborhood library is not just any library. I encourage reaching out — in both directions. There are win-win situations just waiting to happen.
Meet Sandy Asher.
Sandy Asher is the author of 25 books, including the award-winning Too Many Frogs and its companions What A Party and Here Comes Gosling (all Philomel). She’s also the editor of seven anthologies, among them With All My Heart, With All My Mind, winner of the National Jewish Book Award in children’s literature (Simon & Schuster) and Writing It Right: How Successful Children’s Authors Revise and Sell Their Stories (Writer’s Institute Publications). Her stories, articles, and poems have been featured in a variety of anthologies, journals, and magazines, most recently Highlights High Five. Sandy’s plays have been performed across the country and abroad, and have been honored with a National Endowment for the Arts playwriting fellowship grant, three American Alliance for Theater and Education Distinguished Play Awards (for A Woman Called Truth, In the Garden of the Selfish Giant, and Jesse and Grace: A Best Friends Story, all Dramatic Publishing Company), AATE’s Charlotte Chorpenning Award for a distinguished body of work in children’s theater, and an Aurand Harris Fellowship grant from the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America. Six of her plays are included in Tell Your Story: The Plays and Playwriting of Sandra Fenichel Asher (Dramatic Publishing). Sandy’s most recent publication is a stage adaptation of Here Comes Gosling, available in both traditional and interactive versions from Dramatic Publishing. A Philadelphia native, Sandy now lives in Lancaster, PA, where she was named Lancaster County’s first Children’s Laureate.
Stop by to visit Sandy’s blog!