As a children's book illustrator and publisher libraries are a huge part of my life.
As the oldest child in a family of limited means in the 70's, the library became my escape. At the time the town, Dawson Springs, KY, had two gas stations, one stop sign, a grocery store, and a library. Only one of these places changed my life.
In 3rd grade I had a secret passion. I never shared this secret with anyone, afraid what others might say.
One day, a friend asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Without thinking I said, "I want to be an artist!" Being a supportive friend, he laughed and said, "Mark, that's never going to happen. Everyone we know works on a farm or in a factory. You will too. You don't know an artist. You'll never be an artist." He was right.
My art teacher, Glenn Leckie, recognized I wasn't myself that day. When I told him what happened, he laughed as well. He then said, "Mark, you know Walt Disney right? He's an artist. There is a book in the library. Read the book and you'll know an artist!" I followed his direction.
The next day I told my friend all about Walt Disney. I knew an artist! The friend replied, "Everyone knows Walt Disney! Mark you won't be an artist, because you don't draw like Walt Disney." He was right, I was only in the 3rd grade.
My art teacher, Glenn Leckie, saw my despair the second day. I told him my friend said I don't draw like Walt Disney. Mr. Leckie said, "Mark, of course you can. There's a book at the library about how to draw Mickey Mouse. Check out the book and practice this weekend." I followed his direction.
On Monday morning I came to school with my best Micky Mouse drawing. My friend was in awe! He said, "Mark, you may know Walt Disney and draw like him, but you'll never make money as an artist." I started to crumple the drawing and throw if away. My friend said, "What are you doing?!"
I said, "I'll never make money doing this. I give up." The friend pulled money from his pocket and said, "I'll give you 50 cents for it."
The moral of my story is not about money. It's about mentors and friends. I cannot for the life of me remember that kid who said my dream wouldn't come true. I do remember Mr. Glenn Leckie, my art teacher. He was my mentor and still remains my mentor as do the Dawson Springs Branch Library librarians, and especially Mary Adams, librarian and my mother.
In life we have many friends we forget for one reason or another. The mentors stay with us forever. These people didn't read the books to me, hold my pen when I drew, and they didn't give me money. They pointed toward the answer and said, "If you want your dream, it's over there. Go make it come true!"
The library was the only free solution to making my dream come true in my hometown. Think of the many children and adults who seek the same solution for their dreams?
I tell this story to almost 10,000 children every year. Much like me in 3rd grade, when asked, "How many of you boys and girls have a secret dream you've never shared?" 90% raise their hands.
The dreamers are there. Will a library be there for the dreamers?