My first memories of visiting the library are from the branch near where I grew up. I remember walking into the children’s section jam-packed with books. A quiet hush filled the area and it had an almost-sacred feel to it. That building, which started out first as a firehouse, has since been torn down and replaced by a modern, state-of-the-art facility, but I will always treasure my experiences in that old, cramped library.
Up until recently, it never occurred to me that there was a time children weren’t allowed in libraries. Children and libraries seems like such a natural fit, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s and early 1900s that the idea caught on. In “Miss Moore Thought Otherwise,” author Jan Pinborough and illustrator Debby Atwell tell the story of one of the people who brought libraries and children together.
The idea for “Miss Moore Thought Otherwise” came nine years ago when Jan’s friend Shauna Cook Clinger, was commissioned to paint a portrait of Moore for a children’s library at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Shauna encouraged Jan to write a children’s book about Anne Carroll Moore.
“I’m not a library historian, and I’m not from New York City, so I’d never heard of Moore,” Jan told Cracking the Cover. “At the time I wasn’t even writing for children. But after reading Frances Sayers’s biography about Moore, I became convinced that children needed to know about this strong-minded woman who did so much to give the gift of books and libraries to children not only in the United States, but throughout the world.”
Jan spent hours in the New York Public Library — where Miss Moore created the first children’s room — poring over the Anne Carroll Moore Collection. It was an experience she loved — holding a postcard from Anne’s friend Beatrix Potter, with a little hand-drawn Nicholas doll drawn by Potter herself; a poem written about Anne and typed out by Carl Sandburg, and a telegram from Eleanor Roosevelt.
It was the stuff of dreams, but writing such a grand story scaled for children was a challenge. “I feel that whenever we are writing history we’re treading on sacred ground,” Jan explained. “I also knew that in some ways Moore is a slightly controversial figure. I didn’t want to overstate her contribution to children’s library services because surely many others played important roles across the country. I just wanted to tell the story truly and accurately — and in a way that children would find interesting and engaging. That’s a delicate balance.”
It took Jan about three years to finish what she calls the “most challenging writing project I’ve ever undertaken.” After that Debby Atwell took her turn at Miss Moore’s story.
At just nine months, Debby took slightly less time to illustrate than Jan did to write. And Debby followed the same path illustrating as she normally does: “I pretend I am a kid that is just learning how to read,” she told Cracking the Cover. “Then I imagine a picture to help that kid understand what is going on in the story. I also try to put an emotional tone, to amuse.”
No one has ever stopped to tell Ann Carroll Moore’s story before now, Debby said. And “boy, she deserves to be celebrated.”
The final version of Jan and Debby’s book turned out better than either one expected. Jan gives credit to Debby, who she says “infused the illustrations with so much light, color, and charm.” Debby passed on the praise to the art department, which “was quite brilliant in the layout.”
Jan had two goals in writing “Miss Moore Thought Otherwise.”
The first: to let children know how they came to receive that “indispensable yet much-taken-for-granted gift” — the children’s library. “I thought that children deserved to know something about those whose vision and determination gave them the privileges of libraries and books.”
Her second goal: “to encourage ‘otherwise-thinking’ children to value and pursue their own individualistic ideas — and thus to make their own unique contributions to the world.”
Jan Pinborough will be at The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, in Salt Lake City, on Saturday, March 23, at 11 a.m. She’ll also be at the Sugarhouse Barnes & Noble, 1104 E. 2100 South, in Salt Lake City, on April 13 at 11 a.m.