CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 1 . . . . September 8, 2017
Eddie is an insect who lives behind a blackboard with his family in a fourth-grade classroom in Ferny Creek Elementary School. When his beloved Aunt Min, who fostered his love for books and who taught him to read with books left open after school hours, goes missing on a visit to the school library, Eddie leaves his family to save her. He finds her living on the librarian's desk, injured and unable to return home. Remaining with her to help find food, Eddie discovers that the librarian, Ms. Laurel, has gone on maternity leave, being replaced by the unkind Ms. Grisch, sister of a school superintendent whose intention it is to close the library and replace it with a standardized testing center. As Grisch packs up the books and scowls at the students, Eddie hatches a plan to use the juice from a stray blueberry to ink notes for her saying "please save the library". The notes are seized upon by the imaginative kids who theorize they are written by late library volunteer Ms. Cavendish, and they begin a button campaign to save the library. Seizing on the energy, the principal announces a plan to name the library after Cavendish. Grisch gives up and quits, and new librarian Mr. Banerjee is appointed. Min recovers, and the family is reunited, with Eddie vowing to write his own book.
A marvelous, inspiring, imaginative, and ultimately redeeming story, The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library is likely among Linda Bailey's best work. Eddie's doubts and fears provide the backdrop for a well-paced adventure story overlaid with references to classic works of children's literature, school politics, and the value of libraries in the 21st century. Undoubtedly tailor-made for an early-grade read-aloud, this fairly lengthy novel is accessible and entirely relevant right through to the early middle grades where it will certainly spark nascent yearnings for social and educational justice.
It also presents, in a sentimental but realistic form, the classic view of the school library as the beloved sanctuary of reading and the teacher-librarian as the (full-time) bridge to knowledge and partner in education, now endangered by what Bailey obviously knows is the shrinking of this space and role. Without dabbling directly in politics, Bailey does a formidable job of presenting the precarious position of school libraries, not to mention the pressures felt by the confused principal who is powerless to stop the situation. Seen through the eyes of a bug—and through him, the eyes of the kids—the situation is at once believable and ridiculous, in the vein of Dr. Seuss' most incisive work (also referenced here).
Lest anyone think that this view of libraries is old-fashioned, a concerned parent is overheard noting how valuable the librarian is when the Internet is so unreliable. Lest anyone think that this idyllic Ferny Creek community is set in a homogenous Canada of long ago, several characters attest to the multicultural setting: there's Janek, an immigrant who asks why the graphic novels are being removed, and there's the kind, insightful, Mr. Banerjee, whose green vest matches Eddie's green shell. For good measure, the experience of reading on a tablet is also explored (in case you are wondering, the bugs can't master it because the surface is too slippery).
Destined to be beloved by kids, parents, educators—and of course librarians—The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library is sure to be an instant classic.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and Past-President of the Ontario Library Association.