When Rosa finds herself bored during the holidays, her dad suggests going to the library to borrow some books. But when they get to the library, they find it to have closed down. Faced with this injustice, Rosa, with the help of her sister Maria, decides that she can’t stay silent. Can they get their library back?
It will come as no surprise that the UK public library service has been under constant threat since the beginning of austerity measures. From 2010 until December 2019, nearly 800 public libraries had closed (source), therefore it is likely that this figure is now much higher. And despite a huge peak in the online resources offered by public libraries during Lockdown, proving what a lifeline libraries are, their budgets are set to fall by an average of 14% (source).
Rosa’s story is therefore sadly not improbable. Yet, it is still full of hope. Hope that people still care about their libraries. Hope personified by young people whose activism is , once again, shaking things up and showing older generations that they care about things like justice, social mobility, equal access to education and culture, and that we should too. The inclusive community that rallies around Rosa is also important not only for representation but also as a firm affirmation that the public library service benefits every one.
We Want Our Books is a wonderful ode to the importance of libraries, community cohesion and to the power of young generations to make a change. An empowering reads for young readers!
I cannot not mention the wonderful endpapers which frame this narrative so beautifully:
We Want Our Books won the 2019 Macmillan Illustration Prize.
I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for this important book, and here is Jake answering some questions about its origins:
Q & A with
What made you want to write this book?
This book is adapted from my final major project at uni, which was my response to everything that was, and is still happening in the US and here in the UK in regards to systemic racism, police brutality and gentrification. I really wanted to say something about these issues in my work.
What I found really difficult was finding a compelling context. It was only after attending a talk with an amazing author and illustrator, Laura Carlin, that I learned that done correctly, children’s books can be perfect places to present and talk about issues such as these.
I chose to center the story around a library as it’s a perfect example of the government spending cuts which impact a local community and it’s children. I think libraries are really important to the communities they serve, and the fact is they are massively under threat in this country. Since 2010, 850 of them have closed in the UK.
One of the most personal reasons I decided to write this book is because I think there is a massive lack of representation within not only children’s publishing, but wider media in general. I think maybe things are beginning to change, but it’s so important for kids to see themselves reflected in the stories they absorb, and is something I desperately wanted when I was a child.
How long did it take to write the book?
Writing the book took a long time! I think in all it was over a year? I had never really done anything like this before so I had to sort of learn on the go. My editor Helen Weir was really supportive (and patient) throughout the entire process and taught me so much so I’m incredibly thankful to her. I think many people might have the assumption that because the text is simpler in kids books it’s easier, but for me that was definitely not the case.
Why are libraries so important to communities?
Libraries play a vital role in providing free access to education and reading for pleasure to their communities. Not everyone has a computer, not everyone has a smartphone. I think they truly cultivate a love of reading that will carry you through and enrich your entire life. I think it was Neil Gaiman who wrote that “Libraries are one of the few places you are allowed to exist without the expectation of spending money”.
What is your favourite thing about libraries?
I owe a lot to my childhood library growing up, I would spend hours there reading books that I would never have come into contact with otherwise. It also really helped me at school. I don’t think I would be where I am if I didn’t have that extra help. What’s crazy to me is the fact that my local library was scheduled for closure last year, but was saved by a community effort on my birthday, which is a bit freaky!
Thank you so much Jake!
Make sure you check out the rest of the blog tour:
We Want Our Books is out on 10th June and can be purchased from your local bookshop or online from our partner bookshop Storytellers Inc.:
All art © Jake Alexander
Source: review copy kindly provided by the publisher