The CBI Conference and Creating a Level Reading Field

May 29, 2014

               I was in Dublin last weekend for the fantastic Children’s Books Ireland conference in the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield, a spectacular venue. The conference kicked off with a hugely entertaining talk by the new Laureate Og, Eoin Colfer of Artemis Fowl fame. I don’t know him although I’m a big fan and I’ve been stalking him for some time. At the coffee break, I found myself beside him and opened my mouth but no words came out. I couldn’t think of anything to say. In hindsight, I think that “Hello Eoin,” might have done fine. I did manage to catch up with Niamh Sharkey, the former Laureate Og. The last time I saw her, we were both twelve . . . and in costume. She was Joseph in our school musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and I played the part of the Nameless Narrator. It was wonderful to bump into her again. We meet so many people in our lives but the names, faces and characteristics of our primary school classmates are forever imprinted on our brains. It is impossible to erase those memories. As soon as you hear a new baby name, you automatically think, “There were two Aoifes in my class at school, the one with the nose-bleeds and the one who always had Taytos in her Mister Men lunch-box.”

               On the Monday after the conference, I visited Mount Anville primary school, where I met an amazing bunch of well-read and engaging students. My talk took place in the state-of-the-art school library. It is a great deal nicer and more spacious than my apartment. I was strongly tempted to move in.

               Huge credit must go to the school librarian for the amazing organization. She makes it so easy for the children to find the kind of book that might catch their interest. I have visited other very impressive libraries, like the one at the Educate Together School in Swords. But when it comes to school libraries, there is not a level playing field. A couple of months ago, I turned up early for a primary school visit and asked if I could wait in the library. This caused a great deal of consternation and much scrambling around until at last someone located the key. I wish it had stayed lost. The school library consisted of an unidentifiable but hairy insect infested cupboard with a few boxes of unorganized tat, the kind of books people joyfully donate to jumble sales: “Report to the Oireachtas Committee on the Road Safety System,” Danielle Steel’s Something or Other, a few Noddy books with their covers torn off, “Management Information Systems in the Twentieth Century,” and “A History of Bee-Keeping in South East Asia.” That’s the kind of library that could put a child off reading for life. It wasn’t the teachers fault. They were amongst the most dedicated that I have encountered but they are badly strained for resources.

               Although it can be good fun and strangely satisfying to whine, there’s not much point in griping unless you are willing to help do something about it. I’m going to be in Dublin for the whole month of September before heading back to New York. If you are a student or a teacher at a school in Dublin with a library in need of some lovin’, get in touch: I’m more than happy to visit to try and give it a helping hand. All those years that I practiced law might not have taught me much but I know how to file. And I’m sure I could badger the wonderful people at Dubrays and Easons and my own lovely publisher, to make a few donations. I am excellent at harassment. Ask any of my former boyfriends.

               A big thank-you to all the wonderful readers, writers, librarians and book lovers that I met at the CBI conference and to the amazing students and staff at Mount Anville!

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