Episode 11 – The Story Thief Challenges – Library magic!

Written by Liam and Aoife!

Featuring top kids author Celine Kiernan!

Note: If you’re a teacher or librarian or work with kids check out the guidance for educators section including advice on how to do this month’s Story Challenge!


Everything you need to know if you haven’t read the other episodes

Hi. I’m Liam. Aoife is my little sister. This is the second last of our twelve episode blog series about the crazy and scary things that happened to us last summer when the Story Thief whirled into our lives.

The mysterious and magical Story Thief steals writer’s stories if they don’t write them down or tell them quickly enough. It has a giant ledger on its back where it writes the stolen stories before hiding them away in its secret library.

Eve sketch cropped

Our writer Dad’s books weren’t getting published so he tried to win a great story idea from the Thief. He did its three story challenges, but got an answer wrong so the Thief won all our Dad’s stories. But memories are stories too and Thief started taking his memories as well.

We summoned the Thief and agreed to do its Story Challenges to win back Dad’s stories and memories. Thanks to the advice from Irish kids’ fiction writers we managed to complete the Challenges. The Story Thief agreed to return our Dad’s memories and stories, but told us to bring him to our library before 4pm. How could we do that?  Our Dad didn’t remember anyone. Couldn’t even speak. He was in a secure ward in a hospital. Plus our Mum didn’t believe in the Story Thief and refused to let us visit him.

Luckily we realised that the thief had been magically travelling through books. We somehow worked out how to do it too. Remembering there was a book in Dad’s room, we disappeared from our house and reappeared at Dad’s bedside. We took a deep breath and set off magically to our library…


I opened my eyes to that same nauseous feeling of being suddenly out of place, like being walloped in the tummy by a heavyweight boxer. I got my bearings. We were on the ground at the back of our library, right in the middle of the kids’ section. Dad was lying on a cushioned bench beside us, the book still rising and falling on his chest.

I looked around. The library was buzzing and lively. A cheerful, bright place. Not exactly a typical spot for the Thief.

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‘Do you see the Thief?’

Aoife shook her head.

‘We’ll find it.’

We pulled our dad up to a rough seated position and shoved a picture book into his hands. Hopefully no one would notice him. For the next, increasingly frantic five minutes we looked for the Thief. Unable to wander around the busy library roaring, ‘Story Thief come out and play!!’, we crept around every corner of the room instead.

It was nowhere to be found. We even checked the smelly toilets.

‘Where is it?’

I hoped that when we got back to Dad we’d find him back to normal, but he was unmoved in his spot by the window, the picture book slipping out of his hands. I pushed it back into place and sat angrily down next to him. Aoife slumped down beside me.

‘What do we do now?’

I checked my watch. It wasn’t even 3pm. ‘Maybe it’ll be here by four?’

‘The note said before four pm. Not at four.’

I was getting desperate. ‘I know, but… It should be here. It should -’ I paused. Realised something. This time I hit her on the shoulder.

‘Ouch. What?’

‘Remember the Thief’s note?’

‘Yeah -’

‘It said your Library. Well what if it meant, like, our library -’

She was confused. ‘Yeah, this library -’

‘No, we’re both writers to the Thief? Aren’t we? So what if he was talking about, ah… like a writers’ library -’

She put her hand to her mouth in surprise then said something indecipherable.

I pulled her hand off her mouth. ‘What?’

‘A library for stories stolen from writers!’

‘Yes!’

This time she was the cautious one and sighed. ‘If you’re right… How do we find this secret library?’

I tried to think. Even put my fingers on my chin like I’d seen smart people do, just to see if that would help. It didn’t.

A noise interrupted my thoughts. A beep from Aoife’s pocket.

Aoife plucked Dad’s phone from her pocket with a shrug. ‘I thought it might be useful.’

We checked it immediately. It wasn’t a text from the Thief saying it was late. It wasn’t anything useful at all. Just a response from an author we’d contacted earlier – before we knew how to travel magically with books.

I pushed the phone back at Aoife. ‘We already know how to travel through books.’

She ignored me, reading a little of the message. ‘This might be useful.’

‘Look, unless it tells us where we can find the  -’

She interrupted my rant and, she read out loud the Writing Advice from Celine Kiernan, author of ‘The Wild Magic Trilogy’.

 

Dear Aoife and Liam,

I don’t think your question about how to travel magically through books is weird. I think it’s extremely sensible and demonstrates what excellent minds you both must have. If you’re going to use magic it really is best to learn everything you can about it, and one can’t learn if one doesn’t ask questions.

The problem is that there are so many kinds of magic. A person could spend their entire life studying one small aspect of one single type of magic, and still not learn the thing they really need to know. (Turning one’s self into a frog, for example. Oh my goodness, how complicated that is. I knew a man who dedicated his entire life to studying that very subject. Spent thirty years learning how to turn into a frog, but forgot to learn how to turn back into a human. Poor Morris. He seems quite happy, though, singing and eating flies, and swimming about in my garden pond.)

What were we discussing? Oh yes. Your magical predicament.

You want to learn how to travel through books.

I don’t think that would be too difficult.

First, you need to decide what kind of magic is best suited to your project. Let’s face it – fire magic probably wouldn’t be your best choice if you’re traveling through a book. (Water magic probably wouldn’t do you much good either, as anyone who has ever dropped a book down the toilet will tell you) I think reading & writing magic is best for your particular requirements. Reading will help you navigate all the paths that a book might bring you, and writing will help you keep track of where you’ve been and where you’re headed. You’ll need a pencil and notebook and a HUGE SELECTION OF BOOKS.

I think the best place to find a huge selection of books is your local library. You wouldn’t believe how many they’ll have there. (Seriously – they’ll have a humongous amount.)

Once you’re in the library you need to select the types of books that will be most useful to you. For example, need to travel somewhere hot? Ask the librarian to give you the best books she knows on really hot places (librarians are awesome, btw. They will always know the best books. They can even find books that aren’t in the library, and get them for you!)

OK, so get yourself a really huge pile of books on hot places. Dive right into them. SUCK UP ALL THEIR INFORMATION. Read about people who’ve been to very hot places. Read about animals who live in very hot places. Look at maps of very hot places. Try remember a time you were once very, very hot. Write down all the facts. Think about it really hard. Pretty soon you’ll know everything you need to know about really hot places. Then – and this is the magic bit – start writing the story of you being in a really hot place. Put everything into it – all the details you’ve learned and all the details you’ve remembered. Use all these things to make your story real, to make that place real.

BAM, in the blink of an eye, you’ll be there.

This magic works for anywhere you need to travel. You just need to use different books.

Do be careful though, won’t you? If you’re going to travel like this, be sure to write yourself plenty of supplies. And always leave yourself an escape route. And don’t write yourself into a place you can’t find your way out of … after all, it’s way too easy to get lost in a good story.

Best of luck, my dears! Let me know how it goes.

Hugs,

C

PS: Here’s a Story Challenge for you.

Want to practice a different kind of magic using the same technique? Go into the library and ask the librarian for books about a particular animal (for example say to the librarian,‘Hello my dearest friend*, I have to do a school project about moles! Can you please show me where to look for good books about moles?’) Using the books they give you and any books you can find yourself, write down all the facts you find interesting about your chosen animal. Then write a story about that animal!

Go on! Do it! Have an adventure as an elephant, or an earthworm (or a sloth, or a penguin… the animal is up to you)

*(the ‘dearest friend’ bit is optional)

We started throwing words at each other.

‘Librarian.’

‘Books about libraries.’

‘Photos.’

‘Then think.’

‘Think hard.’

‘Make the secret library real.’

‘Super real.’

‘Then…’

We didn’t wait to wonder what we’d do if our plan didn’t work, we just set off running up to the counter. Luckily the nicest librarian in the world was waiting up there. She pulled her glasses on and starting clicking on the computer, ‘Books about libraries, is it?’

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Within ten minutes we had a pile of books next to Dad. Plus we had the search engine on Dad’s phone to get even more photos and articles about libraries. With the pen and paper the librarian gave us, we imagined the Thief’s secret library into words.

It was our most important writing challenge and, thank God, the ideas just flowed right out of us onto paper. We imagined a secret library hidden deep within a mountainous, uninhabited land. It was inside a candle-lit cave. Heavy wooden shutters were pulled tight against the storm winds outside. There were high shelves filled with hundreds of the Thief’s massive leather ledgers of stolen stories – a cold and lonely library library hidden far away from the rest of the world. Even writing about it made me feel cold.

A shadow fell over my writing page.

I looked up.

That disorientating jolt.

Nausea.

The piece of paper dropped out of my hands and fell onto the stone floor where all three of us now sat. My eyes grew unaccustomed to the candlelit cave around us. I heard the roar of the high winds outside.

Aoife whispered. ‘We did it.’

Gently letting Dad slump over, we stood up. The library rose up around us like a cathedral. I could barely see the top of the shelves of books. The Thief was nowhere to be seen, but its handiwork could be found in each massive leather bound volume on the shelves. I touched one. A thick layer of dust suggested it hasn’t been disturbed for decades. What was the point of stealing stories if you weren’t going to read them?

On the far side of the room, the ledgers looked more recent. Aoife yanked one open.

‘Look.’

I ran over. Heavy vellum pages spilled open revealing the Thief’s writing and story after story. Some only one line. Some pages long. There were names above every story. Some names we’d never seen before, but others we recognised immediately. Famous writers. Bestselling authors.

We dropped the book as we heard a thud behind us.

The Thief stood in an dark, open doorway I hadn’t seen earlier. Its head hidden in its cloak. Its shoulders low and heavy. It looked smaller, less scary. The ledger was gone from its back, but was now on the ground next to Dad.

We rushed over and opened it. Our father’s name was written at the top of the front page. Inside it was filled with page after page of dense writing. Only the last page was half empty.

A cold breeze blew that page and it glanced off my father’s hand. At first I though it was a trick of the shadows, but the words begin to disappear off the page, backwards, letter by letter. It was as if the handwriting was a thread being pulled away by some invisible hand.

Dad moved. He blinked and looked at us like a man waking up

‘Aoife. Liam?’

We hugged him. ‘Dad!’

We helped him sit up, watching as he returned to himself. Confusion in his eyes turning to focus. His arms’ strength returning as he hugged us both, his fingers capably wiping the tears from our eyes.

Kicking the empty ledger away, our Dad stood up on his own two feet. He reached down and helped us up. Only then did I realise how much I’d missed him, how scared I’d been without him.

He faced the Thief. ‘You cheated me!’

The Thief’s breath was heavy and cold, but its voice was tired. It didn’t even speak in rhyme.

You have won.

Take one story.

Then go.

It turned away into the darkness, pulling the wooden door closed behind it with a creak. Disappearing off to, what, torment others? To another even more secret library? I didn’t know and I didn’t care.

It was over.

Aoife poked Dad,‘What did it mean Dad? Take one story?’

For the first time in nearly two weeks that spark returned to my father’s eyes. ‘You did its three challenges?’

Aoife yelped, ‘We did six!’

Dad turned to gaze at the bookshelves of ledgers around us. His face glowed.

‘That’s the deal. That’s always the deal. If you complete the Thief’s challenges, you get to choose one story from his library for yourself to keep, to write.’

Aoife and I went silent. It was every writer’s fever dream come true. Around us were story ideas from the world’s greatest authors. Stories that, if written up by Dad, would surely sell a million copies, more maybe.

Now we just had to pick one.

Now read the final episode of The Story Thief Challenges!

Oh and here’s the stuff Dad told me I had to tell everyone…

The Story Thief Challenges is a twelve part series published on the first Monday of each month. Each episode includes writing advice from an Irish children’s fiction author and a Story Challenge activity that can be used by teachers, librarians and other educators with kids.

To subscribe to The Story Thief Challenges – click here.

If you would like more information on Celine Kiernan and her books and how to contact her, including for school, library and other visits click here.

If you’re a teacher / librarian / educator or parent and you would like advice on how use The Story Thief Challenges and each month’s Story Challenges with children to promote reading, writing, story telling and creativity please click here.

Check out the work done by kids on this series and get work featured on it –click here. 

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