This is a busy time for the nation’s libraries, as kids out of school for the summer discover just how entertaining books can be. Two popular volumes for teens and pre-teens were written by a Virginia woman, and they feature some unlikely super heroes – librarians.
Jen Swann Downey is known around Charlottesville for the organic donuts she makes with her husband, but the mother of three was not content to peddle treats from the Carpe Donut truck. Instead, she began writing young adult fiction. An avid reader herself, Downey wanted to celebrate the men and women who staff America’s libraries.
“I think of librarians as heroes," she explains. "They do take, as part of their reason for being, to make sure that information is flowing, regardless of whether they value it or despise the information.”
Also a fan of J.K. Rowling’s books about Harry Potter and the world of magic, she crafted her own fantasy in which children travel through time, by way of Petrarch’s library.
“It exists in its own special place, outside of time," the author says. "Thousands of libraries that have been destroyed out in the real world have kind of glommed together, and they’re connected into kind of a maze, and it opens out into various times – every century where writing exists.”
13-year-old David Wiles is an early fan of Downey’s first two books in which the main characters – Dorie and Marcus – do their part to battle the forces of evil -- in particular an organization called The Foundation. "It wants to make people not able to read and write and think for themselves,” Wiles says.
But this is no preachy tome – no tribute to Thomas Jefferson and the first amendment. This is a tale of fun and quirky detail. Downey read from the beginning of book two – The Ninja Librarians: Sword in the Stacks:
“Twelve-year-old Dorie Barnes was on pins and needles – and thumb tacks. The thumb tacks were plastic and scattered the length and breadth of Great Aunt Alice’s shabby ballroom, where the Barnes family did most of its living and dining and everything else-ing. The reason that Dorie, coffee can in hand, was crawling among the thumbtacks and occasionally upon them, feeling slightly mocked by their cheerful colors, was that she had a 4-year-old sister who had thought it made perfect sense to create a thumbtack garden beside the sofa and even more sense to run it over with the vacuum.”
As they travel through time, Dorie and Marcus meet many famous characters from history, they learn to forage for food, to use historic weapons and to ride various animals. Downey wrote these books for children between the ages of 10 and 13, although she hopes people of all ages will enjoy them, and she doesn’t shy away from challenging vocabulary and ideas.
“I like a little archness in writing, and I trust kids actually to enjoy complexity – fresh words, new ways of thinking of things. I think they’re a pretty intelligent bunch.”
Another intelligent bunch, the nation’s librarians, have given the book good reviews, and author Jen Swann Downey is pleased to have placed them in the canon of superheroes. No word yet on when part three of the series will be written, but David Wiles is looking forward to it.