Saracen, Selznick, and the Goose That Almost Wasn’t
Cute goose, right? Well I don’t usually recount stories from my workplace, it being all marbley and imposing and such, but this is a good story. It involves a goose rescue mission, Long Island City, and Brian Selznick, not necessarily in that order. I explain.
In 2006 I was a new blogger, a relatively new children’s librarian, and I became acquainted with a new (at that point) British author. Her name was Frances Hardinge and she had recently published her first novel Fly By Night on either side of the Atlantic. I instantly fell in love with the book, not least because it featured a homicidal goose. All books, I have come to expect, would benefit from the simple addition of a homicidal goose. In any case, back then NYPL had big meetings of children’s librarians where we’d swap ideas for readalouds and booktalks. And I got it into my head that the best possible way to do a Fly By Night booktalk would be with a goose puppet.*
One problem: They don’t exist. Or rather, nice ones don’t. At the time of my brilliant notion the goose pickings were slim. I managed to find images of a really lovely gander from Folkmanis, but sadly it was out of stock (never, I now see, to return). So in a fit of pique I wrote in December of 2006:
“By the way, anyone that procures for me an Out of Stock Folkmanis goose puppet wins my heart, my mind, and any other intangible parts of my self they wish to lay claim to. I’d love to do some booktalking with my very own Saracen on my arm. Can’t you imagine me talking to kids as the goose hisses like a veritable fiend at them?”
So Brian Selznick sent me a goose puppet.
This is actually true. Some of you may be aware of Mr. Selznick’s puppet connections. He’s been active in the puppet scene for years, and has accumulated a couple here and there. The goose, however, had been a kind of gift. As he wrote me:
“When I was working on The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins I was bitten by a goose in the park where the dinosaurs still stand in London. A bookseller gave me this goose puppet in honor of that somewhat painful incident.”
Brian didn’t need the goose, and when he read my plea on my blog (I had made him a Hot Man of Children’s Literature the previous March) he was inspired to lend me a hand. This is because he is a stand up fella.
So I had me a Selznick goose on my hands! And it really is a lovely thing. So downy and white. My regular storytime puppet is a Folkmanis white mouse named Basil that cannot be beat for sheer expressiveness (proof here) but Saracen the goose turned out to have his own charms. And so we were happy for a time. Until 2008 rolled around, that is.
In 2008 the Donnell branch of New York Public Library was sold. Every part of the enormous library had to vacate, including the Central Children’s Room. We’d had five children’s librarians working in a large children’s room doing all kinds of programs for fun. Now we had three and we needed to go live elsewhere. Fortunately, we landed at the main branch of NYPL where, from 1911 to 1970, the room had existed in the first place! Score!
In the course of packing up we hired a set of movers who, I must say, did a splendid job. And here is where the story takes a bitter turn. Saracen? I forgot about him. I didn’t use him as regularly as I might, and so he resided proudly in the office of my boss. And when the movers came to pack up that office I didn’t think twice about it until he was gone. One minute he was there. The next he was in a box somewhere far far away, waiting to be cataloged and added to the library’s enormous non-print collection. My assumption that he would come along to our new space was just hopeful thinking and now I’d lost him! Lost my goose!
Fast forward three years.
It’s 2011 and in that time no one has been able to track the goose down. Oh, various attempts have been made but there were a lot of boxes to go through, and who has the time to find one single, solitary goose puppet? Then, the other day, my boss Louise changed everything. Those old boxes from the office were slated for cataloging soon. Move too slow and the goose would be gone forever, swallowed by the system, and cataloged for all time. So did I want to head out to Long Island City with her to try and retrieve him?
Rescue Mission GO!
It was hot. The space was cool. We opened many boxes and saw an array of fabulous things I’d never noticed before. Old puppet theaters. International dolls. An edition of Struwwelpeter with illustrations I just KNOW I’d never seen before. And then, near the end, my gander. My sweet little guy.
We returned and you can bet I will never ever let this bird out of my sight. So a big thank you to Louise for helping me to find it once again (and for the pictures too). And yet another thank you five years down the line to Mr. Selznick. Best danged goose puppet in the world, this one. You can bet he’ll get some use.
*[Note: One could do the same with the sequel Fly Trap, which just came out this year.]
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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