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Libraries Week 2018: Joseph Coelho explains why libraries matter

To celebrate the start of Libraries Week, we have a very special guest blog from Joseph Coelho. Joseph is an award-winning poet, playwright and author of two picture books. Here he writes on how the inspiration for his work all began at the library…

My Library

West Hill Library in London was my library, where I did the summer reading schemes, completed homework with friends and had my first Saturday job.

I loved working there – the library was a roll out of bed away and I got to spend the day browsing books. I can still remember two old dears who came every Saturday morning to browse and chat. One day one of them asked if I was being good and before I answered told me quite firmly “it’s hard ain’t it Joe, it’s hard to be good.”

West Hill Library was a hub for the community and I loved it.

Closure of my library

A few years ago my grandmother sent me a newspaper clipping – West Hill Library had closed. My grandmother loved the library so much that she had given us strict instructions to scatter her ashes on its parquet flooring knowing full well that her final resting place would most likely be the cleaner’s hoover bag, but she didn’t care, she wanted to become a smote of dust in that thumbed universe. Fortunately my grandmother is still with us. Unfortunately West Hill Library is not.

I’m passionate about the impact books can have on young minds. I didn’t come from a home of books – we didn’t visit bookshops, we didn’t have the money. If it wasn’t for West Hill Library I don’t think I would be a writer now.

Theatre and Picture Books and families

I share my love of libraries in my writing and through theatre shows that I tour to libraries up and down the country. I try to make visual the ability of books to open doors onto new worlds.

I have visited hundreds of libraries and have seen things that will stay with me for ever such as a five year boy on his first visit to a library asking me if he could have one of the books. Or the parent who said, “That was good, I didn’t expect that in a library.” Or the teen who didn’t have money for a signed book, so I gifted her one and then watched her walking out of the library with her head buried in my poetry – this is just a snippet of the impact that books and libraries have on young minds.

My debut picture book Luna Loves Library Day, illustrated by Fiona Lumbers, was inspired by my love of libraries. Luna loves library day because every book she opens changes her surroundings as creatures and plants escape! But Luna also loves library day because it is the day that she gets to spend reading with her father. I wanted to portray a non-traditional family, where mum and dad, for whatever reason, do not live together and to show that that can be ok.

I grew up in a single parent family but never saw my situation reflected in the media, my situation was always a source of shame. I recently came across a statistic that non-traditional family set-ups make up an increasingly large amount of total families. It seems only right that we introduce children to a range of stories and poems that not only reflect them and their various situations but also help build in them an empathy for those in different circumstances to their own. Libraries have the power to do this.

Call To Action

  • Find a picture book about a family different from your own. Helen Oxenbury’s So Much and There’s Going To Be A Baby could be great starting points as could Jessica Love’s Julian is a Mermaid.
  • Have a wander around a section of the library you don’t often visit – libraries are places of exploration, go explore.

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