“What’s the value of a story?” asks Viviani Joffre Fedeler, the protagonist of The Story Seeker, the second entry in Kristin O’Donnell Tubb’s New York Public Library series for middle-grade readers. “Perhaps a story’s value should be measured in pleasantries, not pennies,” Viviani observes. “Knowledge, not nickels. Delights, not dollars.”
The Story Seeker takes place in early 1929, and vivacious 11-year-old Viviani is an unabashed (library) card-carrying lover of stories. In fact, Tubb writes, “Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After were as much a part of her as her dirty fingernails, her scraped knees, her red hair.”
So it’s a good thing that Viviani spends every day surrounded by stories. She and her family live in an apartment inside the main branch of the New York Public Library. Viviani’s father is the library superintendent, so she and her two brothers, as well as their friends, have the run of the place as long as they don’t disturb the patrons — something the exuberant Viviani finds very difficult. “Mrs. Coe shushed them,” Tubb writes. “Living in the library, Viviani collected shushes like others might collect rocks or shells. She had pockets and pockets full of them. She could likely create a gust of wind.”
Viviani leads readers on a tour of the library from the Main Reading Room to the Map Room, the Photography Collection, the Periodical Reading Room, and even the Rare Books Room, where she finds a new mystery to solve. (Viviani loves solving mysteries almost as much as she loves stories.) Someone has been checking out rare medical books and not returning them. Viviani vows to get to the bottom of it, because she believes that books — and the information they contain — belong to everyone.
With her mind full of stories and mysteries, Viviani is thrilled when her teacher at school announces a writing contest. Each student is to write a story about friendship and, incredibly, one entry will be chosen for publication in The New York Times. As a bonus, the winner will get to visit the offices of the renowned newspaper. “Viviani thought her whole person might explode into tiny, joyous Viviani confetti,” Tubb writes.
But then her plan to win the contest hits a snag: writer’s block. While she waits for inspiration to strike, Viviani concentrates on the missing medical books. After visiting the office of the library’s Special Investigator to gather clues, Viviani and her friends apply her brother’s lessons on codes and codebreaking to finding a pattern in the titles of the missing books. (Along the way, Tubb offers readers secret messages in six different codes, with solutions provided at the end of The Story Seeker.)
As in the first volume in this series, Tubb, a Nashvillian, includes plenty of period details about New York. Viviani and her family attend the Ziegfeld Follies at the New Amsterdam Theatre and shop for clothing in the Garment District. Many of the characters are based on real people, including Viviani herself, and readers also learn about the history of the library and its enormous resources.
The Story Seeker provides a gentle look back at a simpler time, seen through the eyes of a spunky young heroine, yet Tubb also gives readers a glimpse of the harsher realities of life in the city in the early 20th century, especially for immigrant families. In the end, Viviani and her friends lead readers on a fun-filled and thoughtful journey highlighting the true value of stories, the respect they deserve, and the power they wield.
Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.
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