Once upon a time, no one in our town knew how to read. All the children's books lay unused and lonely on the library shelves. And of course, as no one could read the books, all the children whose tales were told in them could never get beyond page one of their stories. The little girls who were meant to receive their first pony on page three ... could only lie in bed on page one and dream of the horse they had hoped to name Blaze. While all the little boys who were meant to celebrate their sixth birthday on page four ... could only walk up and down page one and remain forever five.
Every night, as it grew dark, people in the streets could hear muffled sounds coming from the library. Though the people didn't know it, these noises were the sounds of children's book children crying for someone, anyone, to come read their stories so that they could come to life. For it is only in the reading of their stories that children's book children come to live and breathe in the minds of those that hear their tales.
Of course the muffled sounds coming from the library made everyone in our town think the place very mysterious, and even a little scary. They already thought the library a strange building for it remained forever dark and closed up, and it was built of a peculiar reddish stone. Now you have to understand, people didn't know what a brick was in those days. As no one knew how to read, no one knew how to build a proper building, and everyone lived in tiny houses built of mud and straw. It wasn't very pleasant, and when it rained the roofs and walls leaked and everything inside the houses (including, sometimes, even the people) smelled of mold and damp.
One day a little girl named Dorothy, who lived in a house across the street from the library and just a little south of it, asked her mother what the strange building was and why no one ever entered there. Dorothy's mother just shrugged. “That's called Library,” she said. “No one knows what Library is for. People claim it holds a great secret that would make everyone happy, but only someone who knows a special kind of magic can ever open its doors.” Closing her eyes to think about this, Dorothy's mother went on to say, “Of course that's probably just an old wives' tale. Nothing will ever change. Everything will always stay the way it is now.” Then she sighed a big sigh and went back to stuffing straw in the latest leak.
That night, when Dorothy went to sleep, she dreamt she was standing in front of Library and that her mother could only ever be happy if Dorothy could somehow get inside. But try as she might, Library's doors would not open for her and Dorothy began to cry.
Now it happened that the dream tears of a real girl mixed with the real tears of children's book children created precisely the magic required to wake a fairy named Ariel who slept in a large sycamore tree not far from Dorothy's house. Ariel had only been asleep for two or three hundred years at this point and, as everyone knows, fairies need to sleep at least a thousand years if they are to feel really rested when they wake up. So Ariel was one unhappy fairy. Eyes flashing, she flew from her tree and glanced left and right in search of the cause of her awakening. But when she heard the crying coming from Dorothy's dream, and the muffled crying coming from the library, she smiled, for this was a problem she knew how to fix. Pulling a silver wand from her spider web gown, Ariel held the wand out at arm's length and then swept it through the air. At the top of its arc, Ariel's wand struck a tree limb and—though it was winter—the limb instantly burst into leaf. At the bottom of its arc, the wand grazed the sidewalk, and immediately the walk's surface bubbled and popped and the air filled with the sweet scent of gardenias.
At this moment, inside the house, Dorothy woke up feeling more alive and alert than she ever had before. She ran outside, saw a figure in a beautiful gown disappear into a large sycamore tree, noticed a streak of what looked like molten glass on the walk before her house, and then, feeling as if she too were glowing, hurried across the street to Library and, magically (because now she could read!), Library's doors opened for her.
The rest, of course, is history. Dorothy grew up to be a famous teacher who taught all the people of our town how to read. Once they could read, people learned how to build proper houses out of wood and brick and stone, and for the first time everything inside their houses remained clean and dry and smelled very good. But what was best of all was that now, because they could read, the doors to the library opened for everyone. The entire town began going to the library where they discovered it really did hold a great secret, a treasure trove of books about anything and everything imaginable. And just as the people were no longer locked out of the library, the children's book children—now that their stories were being read—no longer stayed locked on the first pages of their books. Now they could come to life every day in the minds of the children who read their stories. And so it was that all the children in the town—both real and imagined—lived happily ever after.
Oh, and if you doubt my tale, to this day, if you look at the sidewalk just a little south of the library and in front of an old cedar tree that grew up where Dorothy's house once stood, you can still see the place where Ariel's wand struck the walk's surface and caused it to bubble and pop. If you do find this spot and see the scorch mark left by Ariel's wand, you should close your eyes and think hard about all the wonderful gifts the magic of reading has given you. And then, if you're lucky, the air around you may very well fill with the sweet scent of gardenias.