Friday, 16 August 2013

Library Legacy

This note was originally written as a submission to the Montreal-West Informer community newspaper. The portion that appeared in print can be viewed here:

Informer Co-Founder’s Legacy Reflected in Inspirational New Children’s Book

Toronto children’s author Jennifer Lanthier loves libraries and is passionate about the power of stories. For this she owes a debt of gratitude to her Grandfather, Ned Lanthier, a long-time resident of Montreal West and a member of the Informer’s Operating Board when it was founded in 1973. Today Jennifer hopes to pass on some of that passion through her recently published book The Stamp Collector, which deals with the inspirational potential of stories and the issue of Freedom of Expression. The Stamp Collector is currently being honoured across the country in Chapters and Indigo outlets as a “Heather’s Pick”.
Ned Lanthier (1907-1992) was active with The Informer from its founding until he retired in 1982 as its Business Manager. His contributions to the community didn’t end there, however. He was active in the Montreal Board of Trade, was on the executive of the Montreal West Citizens Association and was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 1978 for outstanding public service.
But it was his passion for books, shared with his wife Eleanor, that made an impression on Jennifer. Ned and Eleanor were instrumental in establishing two libraries in this community: the St. Ignatius Parish library and the Montreal West Adult library on Westminster Street. Eleanor also served as a librarian with the Montreal West Children’s Library at Elizabeth Ballantyne Elementary School.
“She was one of the most thoughtful, critical readers I have ever known. I remember visiting her library, and being enormously proud of this elegant silver-haired woman reading to a group of children, and then carefully, firmly, guiding each one of them to books she knew would hold their interest, and spur them to read more”, said Jennifer.
Ned and Eleanor’s son and Jennifer’s father Jim Lanthier, himself a poet, recalls growing up in the family home on Ballantyne Avenue South. “The big old house was full of books,” said Jim. “Stacked everywhere. In hallways, the kitchen, attic, living room.” The bookishness became well rooted in the family: Jim’s brother Philip established the Literary Festival in Knowlton and the magazine Matrix, Jennifer’s sister Kateri, like Jim, is a poet.
Jennifer has spent most of her career as a journalist, writing non-fiction, while finding time to volunteer in the library of her children’s school. She then turned her hand to fiction and had two middle grade novels, The Mystery of the Martello Tower and The Legend of the Lost Jewels, published by HarperCollins Canada in 2007 and 2008.
Through her volunteer work with PEN Canada, Jennifer met the exiled journalist Jiang Weiping, who had spent six years in a Chinese prison for a series of investigative articles he wrote exposing the corruption of the then-unknown government official, Bo Xilai. That encounter led Jennifer to write her first picture book, The Stamp Collector, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in October 2012, with illustrations by Montreal-area artist Francois Thisdale.
A 1,300-word prose poem, The Stamp Collector is about two boys – one who grows up to become a writer and one who grows up to become a prison guard – and the power of friendship and stories. The powerful tale ends on an uplifting note set in the warmth and safety of what else but a library. An afterword explains the concept of freedom of expression and the work done by PEN and other charities on behalf of writers and journalists at risk in countries around the world. A portion of any proceeds from the book will go to PEN Canada.
“Books inspire. Words inspire,” said Jennifer. “The right words to the right child spark synapses and fuel appetites. These are things a librarian knows.”