[Throwback Posts | Academic Nook] Librarian’s Voice – Benjamin Farr’s Book Week and the Power of Make-Believe

Myra here.

We have been doing a series of throwback posts of our conversations with storytellers, artists, poets, academics. These posts are found in our Behind the Books website and are being shared here now in our new home. This essay written by Benjamin Farr, Infant Librarian from Tanglin Trust School, was posted back in September 2012.

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This is the first (and hopefully not the last) time that we have a Librarian’s Voice in our Academic Nook. We thought that this would be an especially brilliant touch given that our current bimonthly theme is Dusty Bookshelves and Library Loot until the middle of September. We are so privileged that Benjamin Farr, Librarian from Tanglin Trust School here in Singapore, has agreed to share some of his thoughts with us as to what made him fall in love with books and become a librarian. Without further introductions, here is Ben’s lovely piece.

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One of the most memorable events in any schoolchild’s life is Book Week.

Ah, yes, that incredibly magic week where books are put on a pedestal and adored, and children once again remember everything great about authors and illustrators. It’s a time when the magic of storytelling is brought to life and when Roald Dahl becomes cooler than Justin Bieber.

Any child growing up in Australia will fondly remember the sheer delight in being able to prance around in front of teachers, friends and family during the annual Book Parade, which generally is the culmination of a week long festival of books. It is during this time that children and teachers alike adorn costumes in honour of their favourite books.

You see, when you’re five years old, school is the epicentre of your life. It’s a time when you’re able to proudly wear an outlandish costume in public and actually believe that you really are a character from a book. This pretty much sums up what is great about being a kid.

So here I was in 1986 (dressed as Enid Blyton’s Noddy), alongside Huckleberry Finn and Olive Oil. When you’re five years old you somehow forget those costumes belong to your big brother and sister – instead allowing your imagination to believe that somehow, magically, your siblings have transformed themselves into book characters. That’s the power of Book Week. It allows children to transcend into the realm of make-believe, and to have a metamorphosis into the world of fantasy.

Nowadays Huckleberry Finn might be replaced with Harry Potter, but the quintessential message is the same – that books have the power to empower. They have the ability to transcend reality.  That for a young child, Book Week is the most brilliant thing since sliced bread!

Even now, as I find myself slipping back into white tights for Book Week (this time as Prince Charming), polishing my shoes (complete with gold buckles, of course) and ensuring my golden tresses are perfectly placed, I recall those precious schoolyard memories – of idolising my teachers and dreaming of being one myself.

For despite feeling more like a pauper than a prince, I know that my own vanity is nothing compared to the (hopeful) inspiration that Book Week will instil upon others.

There is one other, most wonderful thing about my experience of primary school, and that is Mrs. Smith, our school teacher-librarian. She was, and continues to be, my hero. Of all the teachers I had during my time at school, Mrs. Smith was the one who inspired me to be a teacher (and consequently go into librarianship).

If I close my eyes and allow my memory to wander, I can still recall the sound of her voice, the slight lisp that rolled off her tongue, the way she held the book. As children we were transfixed with her stories – the places she took us and the people she introduced us to.

If I close my eyes and allow my memory to wander, I can still recall the sound of her voice, the slight lisp that rolled off her tongue, the way she held the book. As children we were transfixed with her stories – the places she took us and the people she introduced us to.

Oh, the excitement of visiting the library! To be entrusted with the responsibility of caring for a book was as exhilarating then as it remains for millions of school children across the world.

As an early years teacher-librarian (3-6 year olds), I am acutely mindful of the responsibility I have in ensuring that my students become life-long readers. As I continue the tradition of staging book parades and hosting Book Weeks, I will always remember how these events inspired my own life, and will forever be grateful to the wonderful Mrs. Smith.

Benjamin Farr is a teacher-librarian at Tanglin Trust School, Singapore. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Benjamin is passionate about education and literature – particularly boys and reading. Having grown up in a country with a rich history of libraries, Benjamin has been saddened of late with the demise of the role of the teacher-librarian in Australian schools and has become an advocate in supporting the vital role they play in education. Other passions include travelling, cooking photography (oh, and of course his new cat, Madge).

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