British slang + great fashion + librarians + 1970 = Dorothy Clewes’ Library Lady

One of the best things about working at an academic research library with a children’s collection is the lil’ gems you find in the stacks.  They can’t throw anything away lest someone may write a thesis on it someday!  I often go hungry during my shifts because I spend my whole break perusing the PZ 7s and PZ 4.9s.  I recently stumbled upon Dorothy Clewes’ Library Lady whilst I should have been eating my lunch.

Library Lady by Dorothy Clewes. Illustrations by Robert Hales. Chatto, Boyd & Oliver, 1970.

First things first.  How fabulous is little Virginia May’s outfit?  This is what I strive to look like on a daily basis, right down to the opaque tights and sideswept bangs.

FIERCE.

This was published in 1970, but it reeks of 1951 (reeks in a good way, that is).  Seven-year-old Virginia May only owns one book to her name until a library opens down the street.  She is welcomed by the “library lady” (who is, hilariously, never referred to as a librarian), becomes a member of the library, and is soon on her way to borrowing the maximum two books at a time.

Ginny’s parents are amped that she is using the library, especially since their two teenaged sons, Charlie and Dudley, are more concerned with loafing about with a troublesome “gang.”  Charlie and Dudley scoff at Ginny’s desire to be “educated,” until they get the chance to – get this – make some fish out of construction paper for a library exhibition! After making some very convincing bream and carp (A “bream?”  What’s that?  Who cares!  It’s charming and British!), Charlie and Dudley begin to feel that they could do more in life than being a “brickie” and an “errand boy.”

‘What about that then?’ Ma said.  She wa so pleased she looked ready to burst.  It was the first time in a long while that she had felt really proud of her two boys.

‘For heaven’s sake – it’s only a bit of coloured paper hanging in a kids’ library,’ Charlie said, but he couldn’t help feeling set up at the unexpected praise and the idea of his cut-out floating from a ceiling for all to see.

But the craft-induced euphoria doesn’t last long.  While drinking at the pub with the “gang,” Charlie and Dudley reveal that, in addition to their carp and bream mobile, the library fish exhibition contains some valuable old fishing poles (old fishing poles are valuable?).  The “gang” then steals the fishing poles and put the blame on Charlie and Dudley!  Luckily, Ginny and the library lady (and the science of fingerprinting) come to the rescue in a conclusion that contains the best colloquial uses of “loaf” and “bacon” in the history of literature:

‘You used your loaf, that’s what,’ Charlie said. ‘You remembered what time it was.  I never would have noticed that in a thousand years.’

‘And that library lady of yours, polishing away our finger-marks from the fishing-rods because she wanted a smart turn-out.  I never would have bothered to do that: but it saved our bacon.’

Brilliant.

Dorothy Clewes was very prolific, and I think she’s best known for her picturebooks with Edward Ardizzone.  But I don’t think it really gets any better than Library Lady. It’s so charmingly vintage and English and has such a dear, schticky appeal for any librarian.

Oh, and PS: this is a bream.

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