CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 3. . . .September 22, 2017
The Mysterious Librarian. (The Adventures of Miss Charlotte, Bk. 2).
Dominique Demers. Illustrated by Tony Ross. Translated by Sander Berg.
Surrey, UK: Alma Books (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2017.
78 pp., trade pbk., $13.99.
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Christine McCrea.
Leo felt strangely excited looking at all those titles. It was as if he had suddenly become very hungry. Except that instead of feeling like biting into a big fat chocolate-glazed doughnut or a hotdog as long as his arm, he felt like devouring those books.
Just as he was reaching for The Mystery of the Jelly Babies, the bell rang.
“Aw shucks!” exclaimed some of the other children, who were also about to reach for a book.
At the end of the afternoon, the children found a note pinned to the bench in the little park next to the school, where the new librarian had been reading her books.
I’ll be waiting for you
In the library
The town of Saint-Anatole has a tiny library – so tiny it is kept in a broom closet. When mayor Peevish finally hires a librarian, he is distraught to learn that she actually plans to run a real library.
Miss Charlotte first requests money to expand the library. When she is denied, she protests in the street and garners enough attention to force the mayor’s hand.
After the expansion, her bizarre behaviour continues. Miss Charlotte attracts the attention of the local school children by hanging around the school with a wagon full of books – her mobile library.
The children are soon captivated and begin frequenting the library on a regular basis. Comfy beach chairs, a book club and potlucks soon follow. It seems Miss Charlotte has a real knack for growing readers!
But Miss Charlotte also has a penchant for being sucked in by books. Though she often appears to be sleeping, she has actually fallen into the thrall of her story and must be rescued by the children. When she falls in love with the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, the children must go to great lengths to save her.
The Mysterious Librarian has an engaging story, notwithstanding a glaring omission in the plot that caused me some confusion. Leo, one of the children, has feelings for Marie, a girl that he met at camp. He confesses his feelings to Miss Charlotte. Later, Leo suddenly realizes that Marie, who lives in another town, knows Miss Charlotte and must be the one to help rescue her from her deepest trance. It is never explained how Leo had this knowledge. A second reading of the chapters in question did not clarify the situation.
I was able to put this aside, however, as the overall story was appealing. Tony Ross’ illustrations also add a sense of whimsy to a novel that celebrates the power of story and childhood.
There are a few moments that some might find inappropriate for young children. For example, there’s a description of Bluebeard discovering a “floor covered in puddles of blood, reflecting the bodies of several women lined up against the wall, all dead.” (p. 20) Also, one child requests that Miss Charlotte provide him with “dirty books” or “books with bare bottoms in them!” (p.32) Luckily, Miss Charlotte counters this by producing a book about a bare-bottomed pig!
As The Mysterious Librarian was originally published in French, I can’t help but feel that these story elements that feel “wrong” have something to do with the translation. Nevertheless, the story, itself, will hook young readers, provided they can get past the idea of reading about a boring librarian!
Christine McCrea is a children’s librarian at Richmond Public Library in B.C.
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