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 FRESH FROM THE INKWELL 

LIBRARY FINES & FINE LIBRARIES

I recently paid a library fine of $1.80. It wasn't my first, and doubtless will not be my last. My father used to turn in books late, so I'm following in his footsteps!

It was Dad who took me, at age 7, to get my own "ticket" from Sandown Public Library on the Isle of Wight. It's a solid brick building, still in operation - though much updated inside with DVDs and PCs, and no more "Shh!" from our childhood librarian, Margaret Wright. The upper floor housed a geological museum, under the watchful eye of Mr. Grapes, curator, who became the inspiration for Alfred Mossle in my 2008 YA novel, Arrowhead's Lost Hoard.

In the 1950s, juveniles were allowed one book at a time. It didn't seem fair that adults could check out two books, one fiction and one non-fiction. My first choice was "Rufty Tufty" - the story of a little imp who would cause mischief, and then suddenly disappear. I read it all the way home, and wanted to return it the same day and get another book - but that was against library rules.

My favorite chapter book was "Treasures of the Snow" by Patricia St. John. I loved it so much that I started to copy it word for word in an exercise book, until I developed writer's cramp. I was delighted to find a paperback "Treasures of the Snow" some thirty years later, in a Texas public library.

In our first house on Fitzroy Street, we had a bookcase on the landing at the top of the stairs. I spent several happy hours there "stocktaking" - just like Miss Wright! I diligently organized the hardback books that belonged to me and my siblings, entering their titles in a small blue notebook. We had won many of them as prizes for church attendance or good grades at school. Popular series for British children back then included Just William, Jennings, the Secret Seven, and Famous Five. Our neighbor would sell his used copies to us for a shilling each. New, they would have cost ten-and-sixpence.

My friends and I mail ordered fan club badges from the prolific children's author Enid Blyton. With her encouragement, we went on nature walks and looked for interesting thiings to report. One day a missel thrush hopped very close to our picnic basket. I wrote to Enid Blyton, and actually received a reply.

So began a lifetime of reading adventures. The public library is one of the first places I visit after moving to a new town. I've enjoyed some fine libraries of all shapes and sizes on three continents. This year in Kansas, I've been in three book discussions, devoured hefty biographies (such as Agatha Christie and Paul McCartney), and joined in the fun of a kids' summer reading program.

I'll try to return books on time, but in these days of government cutbacks, an occasional fine is money well spent. Read More 
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