It was midnight and Effie the library elf was hard at work, dusting the library shelves when she heard a squeak coming from the children’s section. She clicked her fingers and two moonbeams later, was standing on top of the picture book box. ‘Hello?’ she said. ‘Who’s there?’
‘Help!’ said a voice coming from the corner display unit. ‘I’m stuck’. Flighty as a flea, Effie leapt on to the cabinet.
‘Please be quick,’ said the voice. ‘I’m a really big elephant book and I’m getting terribly squished.’ When Effie looked, she saw a book had fallen down, but it wasn’t very big at all, in fact it was one of the smallest books in the whole library.
‘Don’t panic,’ she said, suppressing a giggle, ‘I’ll get you out in a hare’s heartbeat’. Taking her bag of magic elf dust out of her pocket, she sprinkled three grains onto the book which immediately floated upward and back to its stand in-between the book about ducks and the flamingo folios.
‘Thank you, Effie,’ said the elephant book. ‘If there’s anything I can do in return, you only have to ask.’
Effie shook her head, jangling the bell on top of her cap. ‘Just doing my job.’
Effie loved working at the library. She’d never been very good at toy-making and it was wonderful to live somewhere warm and sunny after spending so long at the North Pole. Most of all she enjoyed watching the big folk learn to read. Elves can read and write from the time they are born so she found it fascinating to follow the humans on their reading adventures. She marvelled at how they’d begin looking at picture books on their mum or dad’s laps and only a few years later could read any book they wanted.
Two humans were particularly special to her. Every Saturday two young sisters would sit snuggled up on the beanbags looking at books in the children’s section. The elder one told her little sister fantastically creative stories. But she wasn’t reading, the books only had pictures in them, she was making up the stories in her head. Effie was amazed at how imaginative she was and often hid close by so that she could listen too.
As time passed, however, the younger sister wanted to pick out her own books, books with writing in them. She read a whole set of princess stories and another about playing tennis.
One day she said to her older sister, ‘Janey, what’s the best book you’ve ever read?’ Janey’s cheeks flushed. The truth was she could hardly read at all. Everyone just assumed she could because she was so clever but, in fact, she’d never been able to finish even one book. Because she was too embarrassed to admit it, she said, ‘I hate books!’
From then on, whenever they went to the library, her sister would have lovely time rifling through the shelves whilst Janey sat on the bean bags with a scowl on her face until their father said it was time to go.
Each Saturday, Effie’s heart broke a little more. She had to do something to help, but what? One day, she went to ask the history books but they told her they were too busy thinking about the past, the romance books said they were too busy being lovey dovey and the science books said they had too many stars and planets to think about.
But, surely, thought Effie, the children’s books will help. ‘No!’ they said with one voice. ‘Janey says she hates books. Why should we help her?’ Just as Effie’s eyes were filling up with tears, she heard a squeak. ‘I’ll help!’ It was a tiny elephant book.
The problem was that neither Effie nor the Elephant Book could just talk to Janey, that was strictly against library rules. So all Friday night they sat together on the bean bags trying to think of a plan. It got to midnight and still they had no ideas. One o’clock – nothing. Two
o’clock – nothing. Three, four, five o’clock – nothing but by the time the first rays of sun hit the bell on Effie’s elf cap, they had decided what they were going to do.
Later on that day, in the afternoon, Janey was sat sulking on the beanbags, when a very strange thing happened. The pages of one of the animal books suddenly fluttered. It’s just the breeze, she thought but, when she looked, she realised the windows weren’t open. She put a finger in her mouth, then held it up into the air. Everything was still. There was definitely no breeze.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the pages of the elephant book move again. She picked it up; it was tiny, so small that it fitted in the palm of her hand. Stupid book, she thought, with stupid words that don’t make any sense. But even as she thought about it, she realised she already knew one word: Elephant – because there it was on the front cover with a picture of an elephant next to it. Still, she would have put it back down if the pages hadn’t fluttered again. Now she was looking at a map. She was good at maps and soon worked out that elephants come from Asia or Africa.
Another page turned, seemingly on its own. From the pictures and the words under them she found out that elephants eat grass, fruit and twigs. Next she learned that elephants can’t jump but they can purr like cats and that they can cry, laugh and play like humans. Each time Janey thought about putting the book down, another page turned and before she knew it, she was looking at the back cover which had a picture of a smiling elephant with a speech bubble that she was sure said ‘Thank you for reading me.’
So that’s how Janey read her first book and the following Saturday she read another one, this time without anyone else’s help. Two weeks later, her class began a project about elephants and Janey got a certificate for good research.
But Effie never found out about that because that was the day she left to go back to the North Pole.
‘Why do you have to leave?’ asked the tiny elephant book.
‘I’m all out of magic dust,’ she said. ‘It’s not supposed to be used in the day, it’s not strong enough, I had to use every last grain moving your pages. Without magic dust, I can’t tidy the library. I’d better go back to the North Pole to live with the other elves. Even though I’m not very good at toy-making, at least it’ll keep me busy.
‘Can I come too?’ asked the elephant book.
‘You’re needed here,’ she said with a sad shake of her head. ‘You need to be on the display between the duck book and the flamingo folios. What would happen if the children never learned about the letter ‘e’? They’d never learn their alphabet and how would they ever manage to spell ‘because’ or ‘eventually’ or ‘elephant’?
‘I suppose so,’ he said. ‘And because I am so big and strong, I can protect all the other books.’
‘Yes, of course,’ said Effie with a smile, ‘that too.’
On Christmas morning Janey and her little sister got up early to open their presents. Janey was delighted when she unwrapped the new books she’d asked for and she could hardly wait to eat her sweets but even better was a little green teddy which came as quite a surprise. She’d never asked for a teddy and even though the seams weren’t straight and the eyes didn’t quite match, she loved him very much indeed.