Our September Author Takeover comes from debut author Anna James, whose dazzling new middle-grade adventure book, Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers, is out this month. Anna James is a former school librarian, a writer, and a journalist, and you can watch her bookish YouTube videos at A Case For Books. In her MuggleNet post, Anna explores the bookish wonders of Harry Potter and how her own favorite library spots have lent themselves to her imagination.
Since her mother’s disappearance, eleven-year-old Tilly has found comfort in stories at Pages & Co., her grandparents’ bookshop. But when her favourite characters, Anne of Green Gables and Alice from Wonderland, appear in the shop, Tilly’s adventures become very real. Not only can she follow Anne and Alice into their thrilling worlds, she discovers she can bookwander into any story she chooses. Tilly’s new ability could even help her solve the mystery of what happened to her mother all those years ago. But danger may be lurking on the very next page…
The Magic of Books
Irma Pince does not do a lot in the fight against librarian clichés. She’s described as “vulturelike,” with “sunken cheeks,” “skin like parchment,” and a “long, hooked nose.” She seems to hate students and is suspicious and rude and definitely a shush-er. But while Madam Pince might be one of my least favorite characters in Harry Potter, the Hogwarts library itself is one of my favorites. “When in doubt, go to the library,” are words to live by, and Hogwarts definitely had an impact on me when I was creating the secret, magical Underlibrary in Tilly and the Bookwanderers, where my heroine goes to learn more about her ability to travel inside of books.
Libraries have always been a huge part of my life, so much so that I was a school librarian myself (although hopefully none of my students would compare me to Madam Pince) for nearly five years before I became a writer. I grew up in a small village in Northumberland, with no bookshop, but we did have a public library, and I was fortunate that all three of the schools I went to had small but well cared for libraries, and my high school had a full-time librarian (who recommended me what turned out to be one of my all-time favorite novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger). Our public library only had a small children’s section, and the teen books were all mixed in (this was a little before YA was seen as a distinct thing, and the teen offerings were mainly Sweet Valley High and my beloved Scrambled Legs books). Moving on to the adult books was just a natural thing to do once I’d read the children’s section, and whether it was because the librarians had more important things to worry about, or because they encouraged reading without censorship, I was left to my own devices. I read without pattern or plan, jumping from Buffy the Vampire Slayer novelizations to Discworld to Austen to women’s fiction – where I learned a lot, some of it far too early.
Nowadays, I choose what I read a lot more consciously, which is largely a good thing; I’m much more aware of publishing and authors and what I like, so I rarely read things I don’t enjoy. But there’s a bit of me that misses choosing books so serendipitously and discovering authors I’ve never heard of. And that’s one of the reasons libraries – and brick-and-mortar bookshops – are so magical. Part of what inspired Pages & Co, the bookshop where Tilly lives with her grandparents, is the idea of infinite unknown portals to other lands waiting for you, lined up on the shelves, and the idea that you might stumble into an adventure you didn’t even know was waiting for you.