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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Why I Have the Best Job in the Western Hemisphere: Example A

I am sitting at the Reference Desk when a nice older woman asks if she might be able to use the catalog.  I lead her over to our catalog computer, as I am wont to do, and all is well.  Minutes later the woman is back.  She mentions that she is an author and she wants to see if her book is in our system.  We’ve a fair amount of people who walk in saying that they are authors each week, and I have found that the older the person is the more I am inclined to believe them.  I am inclined to believe this woman particularly.

I ask what the books were.

She says that she stopped by the bookstore one floor up before she came upon us and they hadn’t heard of it.

I reply that the bookstore does not specialize in children’s literature necessarily.  What’s the book?

My Father’s Dragon.

My brain stops functioning for 0.75 seconds.  I recover only to find that I am spluttering, "You’re… you’re.. Ruth…"

"I’m Ruth Stiles Gannett," she agrees.

This would have been an opportune time to have said that I read these books growing up, but in point of fact I did not.  Just the same, I am more than aware of them.  They are huge.  Huge here in America.  Particularly huge in Japan (where they were turned into what looks like a rather lovely movie).  This time last year I filled in as a roving librarian at a nearby elementary school.  The school’s librarian had suddenly passed away and they were bringing in public librarians to read to different classes of third graders.  It was HIGHLY recommended to me that I bring in a copy of My Father’s Dragon, as the librarian before me had started it with the kids and they were wrapped up in the story.  I did and you never saw such enthralled children.  I filed that information away in my brain for whenever I have to read aloud to kids around that age again.

The book (books, actually, since My Father’s Dragon was followed up with Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland) came out in 1948 and it won a Newbery Honor that year.  1948.  Do you understand why I was flabbergasted to find Ms. Stiles merrily walking about my library, mere minutes before meeting her daughter out front?

Blabbing like a madwoman I assured her that her books were read by children all the time and we had many circulating copies, including the recent 50-year anniversary edition of all three compiled.  Then I pulled out this book we keep under the desk so that authors and illustrators will sign it when they’re around, and asked her to put something down.  She mentioned that she had been in my library in 1948 to present to the children, and told me the tale of telling them a story about a treehouse.  As she signed she also mentioned a little background on the publication of My Father’s Dragon.  Apparently she was too shy to drop off the manuscript at Random House, so her stepmother’s maid dropped it off instead (apparently it was conveniently on her way).  In fact, her stepmother (Mrs. Ruth Chrisman Stiles) was the illustrator of all three books.  If you would like to see the original art, Ms. Stiles says that it is currently housed in the Kerlan Collection in Minnesota.  I showed Ms. Stiles the art from the upcoming Archie and the Pirates by Marc Rosenthal, since I think it has a distinctive My Father’s Dragon vibe about it.  She agreed but noted that the art in her books (with the exception of the covers and endpapers) is entirely black and white.

It’s not every day a Newbery Honor winner of some 50 years past waltzes in the door, and I was delighted when she agreed to sign some copies of her books.  Knowing that if I had her sign our circulating materials they might well waltz out the door never to return again, I decided to have her sign our original reference editions.  However, original reference editions are now housed underneath Bryant Park, and it takes a lot of dodging, spinning, inning, and outing for me to retrieve them.  But retrieve them I did!  Grabbed ’em, ran ’em back, and she signed every last one to the children of New York City.

I wanted proof of this, so I had one of my clerks take our picture with their camera phone.  It’s a little blurry, but enough so that I won’t forget about meeting this fantastic author by chance.  A good day.  A wonderful woman.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. lisainberlin says:

    Wow…you hit the jackpot! That sounds like magic!

  2. Sarah Miller says:

    Rock ON.

  3. Genevieve says:

    Wow. That’s . . . wow. An amazing experience. Hooray for you for having the presence of mind to go get the reference editions for signing!

    Such good books for early readers, too – for kids who are on the young side for chapter books, but can read them, because the content won’t overwhlem them.

  4. Megan Germano says:

    I am going to agree with Sarah Miller here and say “ROCK ON!” Those books Really remind me of childhood.

  5. Even more than gushing, “Oh, my gosh, I LOVED your book,” it was probably deeply gratifying for you to a.) know her name by the title of her book, and b.) be able to assure her that kids read it.

    How serendipitous. What an awesome job.

  6. Wow. And, yes, it’s one of the best long read alouds ever for 2nd graders too. I’m a school librarian and I read all 3 books to the 2nd graders every year and they are mesmerized. I blow up the maps and we trace Elmer’s routes. We check off the items on his list as he uses them — guessing beforehand which item he’ll use in that situation. I could go on and on. And my own kids adored them also. Gosh, you do have the best job!

  7. Oh man…have you died and gone to heaven yet? How lucky are you???

  8. Alan Silberberg says:

    What a wonderful life you have! I loved reading all 3 books to my son.

  9. Sandy D. says:

    Oh, that is sooo cool. My 7 y.o. daughter had the flu last spring, and was bored with everything. I found our copy of “My Father’s Dragon” (actually, the one that has all three books in it), and it kept her busy and happy until she was out of quarantine.

  10. Authors and illustrators truly are “rock stars” to us book peeps! How very cool, and so fun for you to have met her!

  11. Wow! That is a cool story! Things like that don’t happen in my little town in TN. I would have freaked out…

  12. mary pearson says:

    1948? Sixty years ago??! She must have been a mere babe when she wrote it. What a wonderful encounter.

  13. It is good to see her looking so well! Thanks for the picture.

    These were the first chapter books I read, over 40 years ago, now. I still remember the feeling of being immersed in magic as I read them.

    Almost 20 years ago, during a summer reading program, a child of about 7 years came to tell me about the wonderful chapter book he had just read: My Father’s Dragon. He was enraptured and took 20 minutes to tell me all about it. He told me the title of each chapter, what happened in each, how many tangerines were left, etc., without ever referring to the book. Normally, for this program, I wouldn’t be able to give that much time to a single child to tell me about a book, but this was far too fabulous to interrupt.

    These books are still enormously popular at my K-5 library.

    I am always torn, however, about whether or not they should be read aloud (we have several teachers who like to read them all). They are wonderful read-alouds, but also magical, completely compelling early chapter book independent reads. (Part of the magic is discovering the story on one’s own, so it is not quite the same to read it as follow up to a classroom reading, though that is usually a wonderful thing.)

    Irene Fahrenwald

  14. Jules at 7-Imp says:

    What a good reminder for me to GET THAT BOOK ALREADY and read it to my girls. It has been praised by former 7-Imp interviewees—Steve Jenkins and Laurie Keller—and I’ve put its image on the blog many times.

  15. When I was teaching kindergarten this was always the first chapter book I would read my class. That is the coolest story!! You are so lucky.

  16. Els Kushner says:

    Wow. Wow. WOW.

    My Father’s Dragon is the very first chapter book I ever remember hearing– even before I could read (a long, *long* time ago) my mom read it to me. I still have the paperback copy she read me, and I read it to my daughter some years ago. What a wonderful book, and what a wonderful encounter.

  17. Kathy Erskine says:

    Beautiful how books connect the generations. And what’s also beautiful is the gratitude you felt, Betsy.

  18. Fuse #8 says:

    I should mention too that she told me that she visits my library every five years. So she fully intends to come back again soon. She wrote the books right after graduating from college I believe.

  19. Donna S. says:

    How wonderful a day was that? I;m SO jealous! My son (now 10) loved her stories, and I recommend the collection often, especially at holidays, in my work at the local bookstore. I am hope she knows how much joy she has brought to so many children! And I hope we always have it in stock!

  20. Janet P. says:

    I had a similar encounter with the author several years ago. I work in a book store north of Boston and she was on her way to her daughter’s house having recently landed at Logan Airport. She came in looking for her books and I was so excited to show them to her and tell her how often I hand sold them. I never even thought to get her to sign them I was just so surprised to meet her. No picture either – no camera phones then.

  21. How fantastic! Gotta love the Great Timers of our business.

  22. Dan Santat says:

    Wow. That is an amazing story! So cool!

  23. Chrisin NY says:

    Right time, right place, right person (you). How wonderful.

  24. Kate Hannigan says:

    Oh my goodness, My Father’s Dragon is HUGE with my kids and their teachers! In fact, last year, my son’s kindergarten class illustrated their own personal dragons after reading it. The teacher hung up the pictures, and it was so beautiful — all these gorgeous, bright creatures in reds, blues and yellows!

  25. anonymous says:

    Should have asked why she didn’t get the copyright renewed. That’s rather surprising considering how popular it is.

    There’s a nice copy at the upenn digital library

  26. Barbara Witke says:

    Makes me wish I were in MN (to see the original art)…sigh…and I haven’t even read it!

  27. Shari Greenspan says:

    Great story. You gave me the chills and brought tears to my eyes. Odd combination, but it’s true. 🙂

  28. J. C. Phillipps says:

    That’s too cool. We just read that to our son (6 yrs. old) this year and he loved it! I bet you were giddy from head to toe.

  29. David Ziegler says:

    So cool! Thanks for sharing the story with us!

  30. Karen Gray Ruelle says:

    Yes, one of my favorites, too! I was lucky enough to meet her (and get some of those wonderful books autographed–copies for my daughter AND for me!) at Books of Wonder some years back. Great, great books!

  31. Much better than my story – I had Ruth Chew walk into my branch and we had NONE of her titles (I think they’re all out of print now.)

  32. indylibrarian says:

    I have to read it. This is an expereince that makes being a librarian worth everything.

  33. Becky Levine says:

    OMG. I cannot say how this makes me feel–my breath is gone.

  34. Marc Rosenthal says:

    Dear Elizabeth
    I am so touched that you actually mentioned my name in connection with ruth Stiles Gannett.
    I hope you will let me know when you review Archie. Meanwhile, I remain incredibly thankful.

    Hope to meet you sometime, Marc