Fuse #8

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Review of the Day: Here Lies the Librarian

Do you ever get the impression that an author is trying just a little too hard to get the attention of their librarian readers? I don’t think this happens much in the world of adult literature, but when it comes to kiddie lit, writers sometimes verge on the shameless. Now I was willing to look past Kimberly Willis Holt’s paean to the glory of librarians everywhere in “Part of Me”, and the non-fiction true tale of librarian heroism, “Dear Miss Breed” by Joanne Oppenheim could certainly slip by on my watch. But recently I’ve been doubling back and rereading some of the children’s books that came out in early 2006. Of those books, one that I missed early on in the game was Richard Peck’s, “Here Lies the Librarian”, courtesy of Dial Books. Mr. Peck has written a wham-bam, rock ‘em, sock ‘em tale of hard core drag racing librarianship. Though still better (as anyone who reads his books regularly will tell you) than 92% of the schlock printed yearly, Peck’s latest venture carries with it the faintest odor of familiarity. Basically, if you perused and enjoyed his previous book, “The Teacher’s Funeral”, then there’s probably little reason to go on to this title as well unless you like to regularly douse yourself in Peck's pleasant wordplay.

For quite a while now it’s just been Peewee and Jake, Jake and Peewee. The two siblings have been inseparable since the death of their parents and together they’ve managed to cobble a living for themselves out of a small automobile body shop. The year is 1914 and in a small town in Indiana Peewee and Jake are anxious for the new paved road to pass their miniscule business venture. While they wait, Jake has been working like a madman to create his very own automobile so as to enter it in one of the county’s drag races. Then four librarians sweep into town and everything goes goofy. You see, these aren't just any old librarians. Led by the irresistible Irene Ridpath, these woman are about to shake this sleepy little village upside down, managing along the way to help Jake with his dream, aid Peewee (real name Eleanor) to live the life she deserves, and defeat the maniacal dealings of the no good rotten Kirby Brothers. Hilarity ensues.

Actually, I’ll level with you here. A lot of librarians were warning me off this book, as if its less-than-perfect status relegated it to the lowest basement of the dankest library. As it happens, I enjoyed it quite a lot. How could I not? You’ve got corpses dangling from trees, independently wealthy librarians, a mention of the Pierce Arrow (a car I’ve loved since I read “Cheaper By the Dozen” lo these many years ago), chills, thrills, spills, and a gal winning a drag race backwards. And Peck’s writing is just great. Who else comes up with descriptions like, “My flesh felt like the moss in a bait can”?. Or of one of the less than fully intelligent villains, “his knuckles dragged the ground thoughtfully”? Or the oblique reference to vulgarity with Peewee saying of a nasty group of people, “More horses laughing. Or parts of horses”? Wink wink.

Peck is comfortable with his time periods, whatsoever those time periods may be. That’s part of the difficulty that comes with reading his books. Loathe to include a glossary of terms in the back (which, to be fair, I don’t think a single child reader has ever consulted a day of their life) he kind of expects you to know what “step-ins”, a “clabber”, or a “truss” might be, amongst other archaic words and phrases.

Yeah. So pandering to your library base may not be a crime of any sort (“I wondered if there wasn’t a Library Science course in Scheming”) but it always makes me just a touch suspicious. I think “Here Lies the Librarian” is quite a lot of fun, but I’m not entirely certain how many kids would actively seek it out. I guess that just remains to be seen. In any case, it’s definitely a fun read. Not Peck’s strongest work, certainly, but a great book to get you through the day. And if you just happen to have an MLIS degree of your own then it feels just that much more familiar.

Notes On the Cover: Not bad. I like artist Mark Summers's faux woodcut design with the small colorful details painted in. With a title like this there was no way he could avoid the obligatory gravestone reading "SHH!", so I'll dock no points there. It doesn't have a sheer oh-isn't-that-pretty quality of the aforementioned "Teacher's Funeral", but it's nice enough. A small hat tip.

You may wish to check out his website here, wherein he declares himself to be "A Legend In Children's Literature".


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