Libraries Week 2018: Joseph Coelho explains why libraries matter

To celebrate the start of Libraries Week, we have a very special guest blog from Joseph Coelho. Joseph is an award-winning poet, playwright and author of two picture books. Here he writes on how the inspiration for his work all began at the library…

My childhood library

West Hill Library in London was my library, where I did the Summer Reading Challenge, completed homework with friends and had my first Saturday job.

I loved working there. The library was a roll out of bed away and I got to spend the day browsing books. I can still remember two old dears who came every Saturday morning to browse and chat. One day one of them asked if I was being good. Before I answered she told me quite firmly, “It’s hard ain’t it Joe, it’s hard to be good.”

West Hill Library was a hub for the community and I loved it.

Theatre, picture books and families

I share my love of libraries in my writing and through theatre shows that I tour to libraries up and down the country. I try to visualise the ability of books to open doors onto new worlds.

I have visited hundreds of libraries and have seen things that will stay with me forever: the five-year-old boy, on his first visit to a library, who asked me if he could have one of the books. Or the parent who said, “That was good, I didn’t expect that in a library.” Or the teen who didn’t have money for a signed book – I gifted her one and then watched her walking out of the library with her head buried in my poetry. These are just snippets of the impact that books and libraries have on young minds.

Luna Loves Library Day.jpeg

Inspirations behind my first picture book

My debut picture book Luna Loves Library Day, illustrated by Fiona Lumbers, was inspired by my love of libraries. Luna loves library day because every book she opens changes her surroundings as creatures and plants escape! But Luna also loves library day because it is the day that she gets to spend reading with her father. I wanted to portray a non-traditional family, where mum and dad, for whatever reason, do not live together and to show that that can be okay.

I grew up in a single parent family but never saw my situation reflected in the media – it was always a source of shame. I recently came across a statistic that non-traditional family set-ups make up an increasingly large amount of total families. It seems only right that we introduce children to a range of stories and poems that not only reflect them and their various situations but also help build in them an empathy for those in different circumstances to their own. Libraries have the power to do this.

Get involved

  • Find a picture book about a family different from your own. So Much by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury and There’s Going To Be A Baby by John Burningham – also illustrated by Helen Oxenbury – could be great starting points. So could Jessica Love’s Julian is a Mermaid.
  • Have a wander around a section of the library you don’t often visit. Libraries are places of exploration, so go explore.
  • Read more about the health and social impact of libraries on our Library Facts page.
  • Check out our resources for librarians here – including Activity Packs and ideas for competitions.
  • Visit the official Libraries Week site for much more information on all the activities taking place this week.
The Reading Agency

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