By Anna McQuinn
After I decided to take a break from publishing in 2003 (I’d been Publisher of my own list for the previous six years prior to a takeover), I returned to working directly with children. I was really lucky to get an almost full-time position with Sure Start (an organization like Head Start) in Acton in West London, and I was tasked with reaching out to the community and encouraging families to join and use the library. Acton has a particularly diverse community and in some areas quite a deprived one, and my organization felt that the community was not accessing enough of the library services.
To achieve this, I started up a Family Book Group (we started each session with the choice of a very easy craft, puzzles, or small play, then tidied up for some songs and rhymes). Then I went about the community visiting baby clinics, drop-in clinics, free milk days, and play groups to let families know about the library. However, I discovered that many of the arguments around books and very young children are not yet won.
Families Anna worked with at the library.
Having worked in children’s publishing for almost twenty years, I thought that everyone knew how important it is to read with young children. However, when I started doing outreach, I realized that I had to make these arguments all over again; moms had to be persuaded that it was not silly to read a book to a toddler who can’t read; parents had to be persuaded that it was appropriate to bring a little child into a library and that they would be welcome and find things to do; moms had to be reassured that if their baby made a noise in the library, that would be okay…
Anna's library gang, 2012.
So, like Lola herself who solves all of life’s problems with a book, I decided to write a simple story about a little girl who goes to the library—to show her choosing books, to show story time and rhyme time, and to show her mommy read to her. I feel so lucky that Charlesbridge saw the potential of this simple little story and decided to publish it—Lola at the Library came out in 2006, ten years ago this year!
Lola at the Library. Text copyright © 2006 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2006 by Rosalind Beardshaw. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Lola en la biblioteca. Text copyright © 2008 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2008 by Rosalind Beardshaw. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
People often ask me why I decided to make Lola a little girl of African heritage. In fact for me, there was no big decision—I don’t think there needs to be some special reason to make a child of color the star of a story. On the contrary, I would say “Why not?!”
I strongly believe that the range of books on offer are not diverse enough. And, I believe that we can’t fix this if we wait around for some special reason to feature a child of color in a story. Folktales are beautiful and books which deal with issues are necessary, but I think if you are three and a half, don’t you ache to see someone just like you in a story? So when I had the thought, “Could Lola be a little girl of color?” I immediately felt, “Why not?!”
Lola was of course much loved by librarians when she first appeared—how could any book enthusiast resist this tiny book-loving hero? As her story developed, (Daddy appeared in the second title and she got a new baby brother, Leo, in the next, who now has his own series for even younger readers) the series found a wider audience—though booklovers are always her biggest fans.
Lola Loves Stories. Text copyright © 2010 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2010 by Rosalind Beardshaw. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
A Lola le encantan los cuentos. Text copyright © 2012 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Rosalind Beardshaw. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Lola Reads to Leo. Text copyright © 2012 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Rosalind Beardshaw. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Lola le lee al pequeno Leo. Text copyright © 2013 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Rosalind Beardshaw. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Leo Loves Baby Time. Text copyright © 2014 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Ruth Hearson. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
A Leo le gusta Bebelandia. Text copyright © 2015 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by Ruth Hearson. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Leo Can Swim. Text copyright © 2016 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Ruth Hearson. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Readers have also fallen in love with the illustrations, and I feel so privileged to work with two women who are as nice as they are talented: Rosalind Beardshaw (the Lola books) and Ruth Hearson (the Leo books).
Books and reading continue to be at the core of Lola's adventures—a story will fire her imagination and when faced with any difficulty, she always looks to a book to solve it: she dresses up and plays at being characters from the stories she reads; her mom uses stories to prepare her for the arrival of the new baby; she reads Mary Mary Quite Contrary in a book of garden poems and immediately wants to try to grow some flowers of her own (necessitating a trip to the library for some research of course), and in her next adventure publishing in Spring 2017, when she really really wants a cat, she proves to her mom that she’s ready to be responsible by finding out all about how to care for cats.
Coming in Spring 2017:
Lola Plants a Garden. Text copyright © 2014 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2014 by Rosalind Beardshaw. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Lola planta un jardin. Text copyright © 2017 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Rosalind Beardshaw. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Coming in Spring 2017:
Lola Gets a Cat. Text copyright © 2017 by Anna McQuinn. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Rosalind Beardshaw. Published by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
I think for that reason, book lovers everywhere see themselves in her stories. Certainly I see a lot of myself in her—I was one of those kids who read everything in sight (including the back of the cereal packet at breakfast and the back of the shampoo bottle while sitting on the loo). And I think this has contributed not just to her success but to her longevity. Lola at the Library is ten years in print this year and still going strong—and not just in the U.S., but in the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Brazil, and soon, Sweden!
The UK (left) and Ireland (right) versions of Lola at the Library.
The Netherlands (left) and Denmark (right) editions of Lola at the Library.
The Brazil (left) and Republic of Korea (right) translations of Lola at the Library.
You’ll see from the covers that Lola has different names around the globe. She began life as Lola and is still called Lola in the U.S.—in both English and Spanish editions. In the UK, not long before publication, Lauren Child’s book series, Charlie & Lola was acquired for children’s TV by the BBC. Afraid of possible confusion, I racked my brain for an alternative. She was called Layla for a time, but it’s funny, even though it’s just one letter more, it seemed too long for a little cutie like Lola. Then one day on my way to my library group, I heard a Somali mom beckon her little girl, “Lulu!” and there it was—a short name that still alliterated with Library! When the Dutch translation was underway, the publisher at Luister contacted me and asked if she could change the name. She too wanted it to alliterate with Library, which is bieb in Dutch, and she already had a proposal—Bibi. I thought it was perfect! In Denmark, they felt Lulu didn’t sound quite right and went for Luna, while in Brazil, they stuck with Lulu. And in the Republic of Korea—well, you tell me!
Anna McQuinn has worked in children's books for more than twenty-five years as an editor, publisher, and writer. She has written more than twenty books for children, including the Lola series and books about Lola's baby brother, Leo. Anna lives in England.
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