Irène Carbonneau has had a life-long love affair with the physical object of the book.
Carbonneau is the community volunteer who purchases the French-language books for the Lennoxville Library. And yes, she prefers books to digital files.
She grew up on a farm in Coaticook, and was schooled by nuns. Carbonneau had no access to a library as a child, but she distinctly recalls the very first book she ever owned. “I must have read it 200,000 times. It was a book filled with animals. ‘Qu’est-ce qu’ils mangent, les cygnes?’ That was the last line of the book, ‘What do swans eat?’ And I had never seen a swan, I had no idea! So I just made it up!”
That imaginative leap marked the beginning. Every new word sparked a vision, a story, a daydream. The bread and butter reality of a “tartinade” was rather dull compared to her imagined version. No matter. New books brought new words and concepts and ever more make-believe.
“When I had chores to do, I would start the vacuum cleaner and just leave it there, unmoving. And I would read. Eventually my mother caught me,” she laughs.
At the age of 18, Carbonneau graduated and immediately went to work. She was a teacher, with much of her career spent with Grade 5 students. “I really enjoyed it, I adored it!”
She was the teacher who loved poetry. “I wanted to use poetry to create images in their heads, to inspire their imagination.” (As a teen, there was Quebec’s romantic poet laureate, Emile Nelligan: “I only really understood him much later, as an adult,” says Carbonneau.)
Retired and living in Lennoxville, she popped by the library to see what there was. And picked up the first two volumes of Les Enfants De La Terre (the translated version of English-language author Jean M. Auel’s six-volume series, Earth’s Children). “I asked the library if they would buy the rest of the series, and they did.”
The books are set 30,000 years in the past, featuring a magical mix of Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons that is much loved by Auel’s many fans (the series begins with 1980’s The Clan Of The Cave Bear, translated as Le Clan De l’Ours Des Cavernes).
But after a while, Carbonneau stopped going, embarrassed about always asking for the purchase of books that she liked. But she couldn’t stay away in the long term. She met the volunteer who was buying new French-language books for the shelves, and Carbonneau was offered the opportunity to purchase books for the children’s French-language section.
“I read, I look at the nouveautés, at book summaries, I am always looking around. Of course, I cannot help but be subjective.
“But I try to buy books that will attract children.”
For those aged three to six, it’s the illustrations that truly matter.
For boys, she says, whatever interests them at home will interest them in a book: Trucks, trains, whatever else they are playing with and talking about. “At the beginning, give them what they want, that’s what will encourage them to love reading. After that, they will begin to explore on their own!”
As they get older, say, seven to nine, many boys will discover comic books or bandes dessinées. “Parents may panic that ‘he won’t read anything else.’ But don’t worry about it! He’s reading, let him read!”
Before J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, she says, older boys did not read at all. So count your blessings. (Hogwart’s books are filed in C-200, C-258, and in Audio Books.)
At age nine or 10, Bryan Perro’s Amos Dragon series was popular (the adventures are set in a fantastical past, filed in C-196), or the Leonis series, by Mario Francis (more fun with history, Egyptian gods, and sorcerers, filed in C-182). For those with shorter attention spans, try the Geronimo Stilton series, filed in C-128 and C-162. Stilton is a mouse and journalist fighting bad guys!
For girls, laughs Carbonneau, it’s princesses, sparkles, and pink. Again, you can argue with what your child likes, but they are not going to read it if they do not like it. Carbonneau believes instilling a love of reading when young will encourage imagination and critical thinking later.
As girls get older, “they’ll read just about anything.”
“You can find everything in books,” Carbonneau says. “The ability to dream, that came to me from books. I loved rural living, but it is a very practical life. Books gave me a window into the past, with historical fiction, or books gave me travel to other countries, or into more fantastical worlds.”
Eventually, Carbonneau took over all the French book ordering. From January to April of this year, she bought 31 adult books, and 64 children’s books. “There is always something new on our shelves,” she brags. No reader will ever be bored with the same-old…
As for her own reading, Carbonneau is spending an hour or so a day on Joanna Gruda’s L’enfant Qui Savait Parler La Langue Des Chiens. (She would spend more time on books if she could, Carbonneau says, but “I have other things in life I also need to do.”)
Gruda is an immigrant, arriving in Trois-Rivières at the age of two with her family. The book is a novel, but is based on her father’s life in Poland before and during the Second World War, and the need for the family to flee. (As an aside, Gruda is sibling to Agnès Gruda, the well-known La Presse journalist.)
For fans of historical fiction, Carbonneau recommends the books of Michel David (most of the books mentioned here are filed in French Adult Fiction, but if you can’t find one, just ask!). David, who died in 2010, wrote five series of four books each, that tell the story of Quebec’s history. His work was well-received.
Carbonneau reads fantastic fiction, too. Such as Quebec novelist Anne Robillard’s Knights of Emerald series, originally published as Les Chevaliers d’Emeraude (there are more than a dozen Chevaliers books so far…).
But there are also old standbys like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, for example (that series begins with The Fellowship Of The Ring, first published in 1954). “I saw the movies, and I really enjoyed them. Because it’s all imaginary, and I love to see how the director has imagined all of these fantastical things from the books. But I prefer the books to films that are based on realism, on realistic stories. For ordinary lives, it’s books that bring ordinary lives to life. Not the films.”
But the books? Always.
– Eleanor Brown, June 5, 2015