… at least, that’s what Mr. and Mrs. Pribble, the antagonists of THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS think.
Children can hardly imagine on their own anymore, so why encourage them to read? Children’s books should remain in pristine condition on a well-maintained shelf, away from those filthy creatures who practically gobble up their books! The Pribble’s are wealthy collectors of rare children’s books, and when they’re unable to acquire a copy of Mr. Pribble’s favorite childhood book (called THE TIMEKEEPER’S CHILDREN), they use a piece of futuristic technology to steal the last remaining copy—from inside a young boy’s mind. But this boy, named Oliver Nelson, realizes the book is important to him, too, and decides to fight back. He leaves the main plot, changes events in the story, and enlists background characters to help him defeat the Pribbles. Much adventure ensues.
Now, I hope you’ll forgive me for that dishonest, attention-grabbing headline, as well as the self-promotional book summary. Of course, I believe children should be allowed to read books, and THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS was my love letter to the books that made an impact on me as a child.
As children’s book authors, we all have a bit of thievery in us? There are no ideas that are truly new and original, something I found maddening when I was just starting out but inspiring now. We’re all pulling from the same collective well of inspiration, and all the themes can be traced back to other things. With that in mind, I want to present some of the things that inspired me while writing this book.
I loved THE BORROWERS by Mary Norton when I was younger, and referenced it several times as one of Oliver’s favorites. Perhaps he can relate to it. Oliver steals books from the local library. Yes, he feels guilty for this fact, but he thinks of himself more like a borrower, taking what he needs and putting it to good use.
When Oliver is pulled into the fantasy world of Dulum in THE TIMEKEEPER’S CHILDREN, he’s able to stay for weeks and experience a full adventure while only an hour and a half goes by in the real world. This was an idea that I first encountered in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. There was always something magical about the way time stopped in Narnia when the children went through the wardrobe. As a child, I could imagine myself living a whole adventure in a moment. As a writer, I realized it was a genius solution to not needing to worry about where the “responsible adults” are during dangerous, high-stakes chapters.
The Ever-Present Narrator
Well, dear reader, I suppose we should discuss the narrative voice of THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS. I wanted the voice to be a mixture of the styles used in Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Roald Dahl. No, it wasn’t directly inspired by Lemony Snicket, though he did make it wildly popular in children’s literature. The dear reader voice was originally inspired by my general confusion about the device—in many books, I can’t tell who the voice is supposed to be. In this book, I wanted to assign it to a memorable character, and introduce this character in a startling and dramatic way. But the less I say about that, the better …
Evil magic has spread over the world of Dulum in THE TIMEKEEPER’S CHILDREN, but luckily, only adults are affected. I can think of several examples like this in children’s literature, one memorable use being the soul-eating spectres from Philip Pullman’s THE SUBTLE KNIFE. In my book, a group of children (dubbed The Gang of Impervious Children) set out to save day from the evil ruler Sigil. His goal is to build a magical clock that will speed up time so that he will have a kingdom without children. Adults always do want children to grow up, don’t they?
There are numerous other books and inspirations I could mention. While researching this book, I went deep down the nostalgia rabbit-hole, re-reading everything that made a mark on me as a child. The results were startling. Many books did not match my memory of them, or the mood I felt when reading them. How could this be? I rarely set out to write a book with a moral or lesson in mind. When I try to do that, it comes out wrong and often teaches something I’m not sure I even believe. The best ideas come organically and can feel a bit obvious in hindsight. In this case, I realized that the books I loved haven’t changed, but I have. As readers, we bring ourselves to the books, injecting our own feelings and imagination into the story, whether or not we mean to.
If anything, THE THIEVING COLLECTORS OF FINE CHILDREN’S BOOKS is about the creative act of reading. Writers only bring part of the story to the table. You, dear reader, bring the rest.
Adam Perry is the author of The Magicians of Elephant County and The Thieving Collectors of Fine Children’s Books. The son of an elementary school librarian, he discovered a love of stories at an early age. He lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with his wife, children, and a growing collection of children’s books. To the best of his knowledge, none of them are stolen. Find out more at adamperrybooks.com.