Literature of the Panda and then some…

Fasten your seat belts, get a bootini and a cupcake because this is going to be one of those long posts.

Do you like my new book?

I want to take a little side trip from all things panda today, (mostly…except for The Literature of the Panda!) and talk about a book I’m reading. Today’s post is not completely devoid of pandas, since pandas and storytelling go together like, um…cuppycakes and frosting. I’ve been reading: This is What a Librarian Looks Like by Kyle Cassidy.

Now, in the interests of full disclosure, this book is written by another client of my agent Gordon, over at Fuse Literary, and he has been yammering on about it on social media since it’s recent publication. “What’s the big deal?” I thought. “It’s pictures of librarians? Why would I want to read that?”

Everything I know

Oh, but now that I am reading it, I see that it is that and so, so much more. To understand why I think this book is so significant, I need to share a little bit of personal history. I was a library kid. While my family owned some books, most of my reading material came from the public libraries in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. We mostly went to a smallish branch library not too far from home, but sometimes we’d go to the big Carnegie Library over in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. This was one of the grand libraries, that only a robber baron in good standing could provide to the little people of Pittsburgh.

Panda Satire Made Easy

Panda satire explained for you!

I didn’t have the happiest childhood, and one of the best ways to escape my families dysfunctional dynamics, was to stick my nose in a book and transport myself somewhere else. Anywhere else, by whatever means possible. I can tune out so completely while reading, you can stand in front of me and yell, and I won’t pay any attention. (Trust me, this has been done.) While I also loved to draw, there is no escape from reality like a really good book.

I don’t remember interacting with the librarians, beyond taking my piles of books to the counter and getting them stamped with the due date. I was a very shy child (why are you laughing? I really was) and I can’t imagine I would have started a conversation with an adult on my own initiative. But whoever you were, you librarians in Pittsburgh in the 60’s, you saved my life.

What a Librarian Looks Like does indeed have pictures of librarians from all over the world, but it also has statements about what they do, what they provide in this age of vast amounts of information flying through cyberspace, but also why what they do is so important. The passion they feel for their calling (because it is a calling) comes through in every sentence. The book tells some library history, as well as wonderfully thought provoking essays by writers who also have deep emotional histories with libraries. One of my favorites is by that rock star of the library world, Nancy Pearl, of Seattle Public Library and NPR fame. She is such a rock star that she even has her own action figure. Her essay about wanting to live in her childhood library rang so true. What better fortress to resist the world’s evils than the fortress that is full of the knowledge of all time?

What do you mean by “was?”

One of the stories that Kyle tells of a librarian’s personal history, moved me so much that I burst out in tears. Really! I think it was the idea that there was something she wanted desperately as a child, that she knew her family could not afford to provide, and she never forgot it. It stayed with her until she became a librarian herself and she found a way to provide this, and fought for the money to make it come true for other children.  I want you to read this book for yourself, and find the stories that reach in to your heart. I want you to find the stories that whisper in your ear and say, do you remember this?

I always wanted to be a painter, and I am immensely grateful for all the forces in the universe that allowed me to become one. I didn’t realize at the time, that I also really wanted to tell stories both with my paintings, and now with pandas. Through telling made up stories I hope to share the universal truths that bring our mutual humanity into being and focus.

You say sumi-e, I say Tsunami

Libraries are more important than ever. They are at the heart of community, in towns and cities, small and large. Librarians help people make sense of all the vast information that is out there, yammering for our attention. I hope every library in the country brings this book to live in their collection. Thank you Kyle, for thinking about this subject, and for bringing this book into the world.

What cats are reading at the beach this summer!

Panda on (right to your local library!)
Bob T Panda

12 thoughts on “Literature of the Panda and then some…

  1. Claire W Bobrow

    Great post! Now to get my mitts on a copy of This Is What a Librarian Looks Like. Book shopping – yay! I also enjoyed the summer reading for cats. That’s all very well. But what about for dogs?!

    1. Panda in Chief Post author

      Huzzah for book shopping. I have a list of books I want to acquire once my finances loosen up a bit. More than once I’ve gotten a book from the library and then decided I can’t live without my own copy.
      I apologize for not supplying a canine summer reading list. I’m pretty sure Julie Falatko’s Two Dogs in a Trench Coat should fill the bill!

  2. billieandhersite

    The public library was always a haven for me as I was growing up. I know about an unhappy childhood. And books always were my escape—still are. Love librarians! Huzzah for Librarians! Thanks for this essay!

    1. Panda in Chief Post author

      You are so welcome! I would be remiss if I didn’t share the books that I love with all of you. It makes me so happy to do so. Let me know what you think of the book when you read it. I’ll tell you my favorite essay after you do.

  3. Jeanie

    Libraries are magical places. And not to go all hyperbole on this, but those wonderful librarians who love books and love spreading the joy of reading are nothing less than super heroes! The whole concept of strangers walking in with nothing but a card, walking out with armfuls of fantastic books at no cost, and being trusted to return those books in good condition is amazing. Thanks for another good book recommendation! 🙂

    1. Panda in Chief Post author

      They are indeed super heroes! That libraries exist is nothing short of amazing. What a gift!

  4. Lora

    I grew up in a home where there was very little money. No car, no vacations etc. However, I lived walking distance (hey, when you have no car, EVERYTHING is walking distance! LOL) from the Main Library in downtown Akron, Ohio. Oh, how I loved that place and the extremely helpful Librarians who gently guided me to read many books I might not have thought to borrow. In grade school I also had a school Librian who taught me the Dewey Decimal System and “allowed’ me to reshelve books. I know what it means to “get lost in a book” and I still do it.

    1. Panda in Chief Post author

      I so love that everyone is sharing their treasured memories of their early experience with libraries. I can’t say enough times how (unexpectedly) moved I was when I read many of the personal stories in this book, as well as the stories you all are sharing with me here. Whether or not you end up bringing this book to live with you forever, or take it out from your library, I hope you get a chance to read it. In fact, I hope all of you will request it from your own library. I think this is a book that should be in every library in the country, and when people ask the person behind the desk why they should still support libraries in this day and age, they can just smile and hand them the book, and a box of tissues.

      Thank you again for being one of the panda faithful, and connecting with me here in the great cyber-panda-space.
      (PS, I’m working on a ‘toon about the recent cupcake robbery that you alerted me too earlier this week. Thanx in advance.)

  5. Danita Britton

    I didn’t have a library. I did have a bookmobile that came every two weeks in summer, and I checked out 14 books each visit. I learned to read before I went to school, in a “volume dictionary” (A combination dictionary/encyclopedia/math book/ with children’s stories as well. I read it all, and still have it.) I literally read encyclopedia. I climbed 30 feet up the backyard cherry tree so nobody could grab the book out of my hands for “reading too much”. I read while walking home from school. I read on the bus to and from work. I read while watching TV, I read while waiting at the doctor’s office. Books have saved my life. Really. I wouldn’t be here without them.

    Bob T., I didn’t know you were from my neck of the actual woods, lol! I grew up in rural Preston County WV, in a town of about 500!

    1. Panda in Chief Post author

      Small world indeed! I have a foggy memory of book mobiles, but I’m not sure if it is a Pittsburgh or Philadelphia memory. I love the image in my mind of you, high in a tree, reading a book. And now that I live in a place where I have to take a ferry to go to the “real” world, I try never to be without a book in my car. Like you, I read everywhere.
      Thanks so much for sharing this story.

  6. Janie

    I didn’t have time to read this on Friday, but what a gift on a Saturday morning (after getting up early, early on the west coast for the royal wedding, with no sign of the Edinburgh panda couple among all the celebrities)! I grew up in a small N CA town of 3,500 people and we were fortunate to have one of those Carnegie Libraries and I was lucky enough to live only 3 blocks away from it. So as my reading skills improved I was hopping on my bike several times a day to return my finished selections and check out new ones. One day the librarian came out from behind her desk and steered me over to a different section and introduced me to the exciting world of “chapter books”! I still remember the first one I read… “A Sundae with Judy”. I often have wondered if she did this to challenge my abilities, or to discourage my frequent library trips which must have interrupted her reading time! Whichever, I was even more excited about reading and the adventures and emotions that chapter books could take me to. Thanks for the memories, Bob T… and “What a Librarian Looks Like” will be arriving at my house Monday from Amazon.

    1. Panda in Chief Post author

      I’m pretty sure that Lord and Lady macBear were there…they might have been in the back so as not to draw attention from the happy couple who were SUPPOSED to be the main attraction. You know how it is with pandas! You’d think they were the only animals at a zoo.

      It’s been so great reading everyone’s library reminiscences. It reminds me that books and stories are powerful. That we’ve lived through hard times before, and through storytelling, history and just plan stubbornness we will survive these times too. In the meantime, I will panda on till they drag me away.


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