Behind the bookshelves with an Area Manager

We caught up with one of Hampshire Libraries Area Managers, Liz, to find out how she came to work with the libraries, her time as a children’s librarian, and her top picks for younger readers.

How did you come to work at Hampshire Libraries?

I’ve always worked in libraries. When I left school, I started working in the libraries in Hull. I went off to university but came back to working in libraries in North Yorkshire after. I came to Hampshire as a Children’s Librarian in Fareham. That was a brilliant thing to do because it’s all about getting the right book to the right child at the right time. It really shaped my way of working. I’m an Area Manager now, so I manage an operational team, keeping the libraries open and developing services, but I think I’ll always be a Children’s Librarian by trade. As a Children’s Librarian, you have to be quite comfortable in front of large groups of children, telling stories in quite extravagant ways. I got to meet so many children’s authors and illustrators as well through book launches and the Wessex Book Fair.

I was so enveloped by children’s books at that time. Parents would come to me with questions like “my child doesn’t really like reading, do you know a book that can help?” or “my child has to go to the dentist soon, are there any books that will help them feel less scared?” and I needed to know those things. Books enable children to articulate what they’re feeling because children don’t always have the language to tell you what they’re thinking. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to somebody through a book than it is to have a direct conversation, especially when children are learning to communicate. Reading develops so much more than literacy and language, it’s empathy and understanding too. Even as an adult reading them, you learn things about the world you didn’t know before. Whether it’s about somebody else’s culture or about being a refugee, they just help you to understand somebody else’s life.

When I was younger, I really struggled to learn to read. I can still remember how humiliating it was because I just couldn’t do it, it was hard. So, I wasn’t really much of a reader when I was a kid, but I think that’s why I really believe it is about getting the right book to the right child at the right time.

Where do you like to read?

I read in bed a lot, but I really enjoy reading on the train. I have family in Yorkshire and if I go to visit them, I like to go by train so I can read and relax. I’ll always take a couple of books with me because I think it’s important to give yourself permission to stop reading something you aren’t enjoying. When we’re younger we have to finish the books that we’re told to read because they’re on the curriculum, and that can make reading feel like a lot of work. But one of the brilliant things about being an adult is that you don’t have to do that.

How do you read?

I usually read in small bits and get through books that way. I don’t tend to listen to audiobooks, I do own an e-reader which is great for reading at night, but I do prefer a physical book.

What do you read?

I’m reading a book called Coasting by Elise Downing and another book about triathlon training. I’m reading a lot of non-fiction lately, but I really like novels and depending on my mood I do love a bit of Chick Lit. I enjoy books with central female characters and books about women’s lives. One novel that really stayed with me was A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier. I really love the writing of Tracy Chevalier, I think they’re just great stories and her novels can give such an insight into the daily hardships of women from the past. Another author who does that really well is Kate Atkinson, particularly in her book Life After Life. The book is set during the second world war and really impressed on me how difficult it is for us to understand what it must have been like to live through that.

In terms of non-fiction, I really enjoy reading books about endurance sports. Over Christmas, I read Relentless by Alistair Brownlee, the Olympic triathlete. It’s a really interesting book because he talks to lots of different sports champions about their mindset and training, from footballers to darts players. I do triathlons and love cycling so it’s definitely a topic that interests me.

I must admit though, in times of stress where you just need a story to wash over you, a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine is Alan Titchmarsh’s novels. They’re so easy to read and there’s always a happy ending. If you’re feeling a bit anxious about something they’re just a proper escape.

What books would you recommend for children and teenagers?

A lot of my favourite picture books aren’t very new, but I think the sign of a good picture book is that it can really stand the test of time. The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen would be my first pick. It’s a very simple story about a magical balloon but the book has fold-out bits and some lovely language. I was reading it to a group of children and afterwards, I heard a boy say “I know what indestructible means” because it was used in the book. He must have only been about three or four years old, but he understood that word and how to use it because it was in the book. To me, that just perfectly illustrated how important picture books really are. Peace At Last by Jill Murphy, it’s a great story about poor Mr Bear trying to find somewhere to sleep but wherever he goes there’s a different noise that keeps him up. Another wonderful book is Winnie the Witch by Valérie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul. We had a visit from Korky Paul a few years ago and he saw a Winnie doll that I had made myself. He said he liked it so I made me one which lead to him signing a book for me addressed to “The Witch Maker”. But the book I would always give to a new baby is Dear Zoo which is such a classic.

Another genre I do love is teen fiction or YA. I’ve read so much teen fiction it’s difficult to pick favourites but one I really enjoyed is Beauty by Robin McKinley. It’s a wonderful retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story. Quite different but equally brilliant is Michael Morpurgo’s Private Peaceful which is just such a beautiful book. I had a flick through the last couple of pages earlier and it still brings me to tears. When it didn’t win the Carnegie medal for children’s fiction, I was just so disappointed.

If you like books that are a bit more whimsical, I would really recommend Skellig by David Almond. It’s about a couple of kids who find a man in their shed, but the man has wings so it’s as if he’s an angel or something like that. All of David Almond’s books are set in the Northeast of England so they’re all grounded in the Newcastle and Northumberland area. He has this quite beautiful way of writing that builds the relationships between the characters really strongly. Some of them can be quite gritty so the books have quite a realistic aspect to them as well.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman is a must read as well. It was recently turned into a TV series. It shows a different perspective of racism, it’s one of those books that really open your eyes, especially if you’re white.

What books have you loved that might get overlooked?

I really like books about people and their lives. A book I enjoyed reading recently was 12 Birds to Save Your Life by Charlie Corbett. After his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and subsequently died, he found a way through his grief by reconnecting with the world through nature and bird songs. It’s more about his experience than about nature so even if birds aren’t your usual subject, you can still really connect with the story. A similar book is the amazing true story by Raynor Winn, The Salt Path. It’s about how she and her husband became homeless just as her husband is diagnosed with a terminal illness. With nowhere else to go, they decided to walk the South West Coast Path. She talks about how it just gave them purpose and time to process what was happening. I actually bought it for my niece last Christmas because, it’s such a wonderful book, I just thought she had to read it.

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