An engaging and imaginative book chronicling the history of the Red Deer Public Library children’s department was recently released, marking a fitting means of wrapping up a year of centennial celebrations.
Written by Red Deer Public Library staff member Laural Randall and illustrated by Lorlie Vuori, the book, entitled More Than Cobwebs and Dust, features historic facts about the building that was once an armoury, a firehall and which of course now houses the Piper Creek Optimist Children’s Department.
Randall recalls the process of exploring different ideas as to how to mark the centennial occasion in her department. Eventually, the concept of penning a book which captured the different eras of the building was sparked. Teaming up with long-time collaborator Vuori, the ideas started to surface.
The story follows a young fellow by the name of Kaleb, who one day visits the library for a tour with the children’s librarian. His mother believes it’s the ideal source of inspiration for his history fair project.
But Kaleb isn’t so sure. “He’s not a reader, he’s a gamer,” explains Randall with a smile. “He’s really wondering why on earth he had to come to the library to do his history project. But his mom is quite excited, because this is a centennial year for the library.”
As he waits for the tour to begin, his mom leaves for a cup of coffee and Kaleb finds himself in the company of Miss Greene – who happens to be Red Deer Public Library’s very first librarian. “She was 17 years of age and she was hired as a librarian here in 1914.”
She leads Kaleb around the building, explaining portions of its fascinating history. “Did you know this building was built in 1913 and had its grand opening early in 1914,” she asks Kaleb, adding that its initial purpose was as an armoury and later it was utilized as a firehall. After spending some time with Miss Greene, Kaleb finds himself in the company of Corporal Russell Stringer who reveals the history of the armoury.
“He takes Kaleb throughout the entire building as though he were a recruit for the First World War.”
Next, he meets Captain Pemberton who details the stories stemming from the period when the building served as a busy firehall.
After learning so much about the building and its rich heritage in the Red Deer community, Kaleb finds himself with the children’s librarian who offers more information about the building’s history, which, as mentioned, was designated as the Red Deer Armoury in 1914 to train soldiers heading off to the First World War.
Ultimately, it’s an incredibly magical morning of learning – not quite what Kaleb was initially expecting but clearly far more than he could have imagined.
Randall and Vuori have worked together on four previous titles as well – Lolly and the Hat, Peter’s Surprise, Braided Pigtails and The Great Chuckwagon Race, and Vuori’s illustrations are the perfect complement to Randall’s gift for creating an engaging and educational story.
Vuori is an accomplished self-taught artist and she recalls, even as a youngster, always having a love for drawing and creating images. Randall recalls knowing right away that Vuori’s style was perfect for her books because of their sense of realism. Over the years, aside from her professional pursuits, drawing has always been a passion as well.
“This was my hobby,” she explains. As for Randall, having worked in the Children’s Department for 27 years – 20 of which have been in the ‘Firehall’ – makes her uniquely qualified to write about the space.
“Being able to document the past 100 years of this beautiful, historic building in More Than Cobwebs and Dust has been one of the highlights of my experience as an author,” she said. “I knew it has to be a tour of sorts, and I knew that it would have to do with those different eras.”
The end result? A wonderful, informative and well-researched title that serves as an ideal means of capping off a year of centennial celebrations for the library.
Randall also wants her books to have a strong educational component. She’s heard from some local teachers who are pleased to see the book which will help with developing lessons on local history as well. That was a goal in her other works as well, which include gems of historical information sprinkled through the unfolding stories. “I like to teach through my writing.”
The recent book launch celebration was also a terrific time of connecting with readers of all ages. “It was wonderful – we talked about the process and after a little break I read the book. About a quarter of the way through, I stopped and looked around and you could have heard a pin drop,” she said. And it wasn’t just the little ones who were taking it all in – the grown-ups were enjoying themselves as well. “It was just remarkable.”
Copies are available for sale at all branches.