Adventures in the Library: An Interview With Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

The Story Seeker: A New York Public Library Book is a companion novel to The Story Collector. These middle grade mysteries are inspired by the real life of Viviani Joffre Fedeler, who literally grew up in the New York Public Library, living with her family in an actual apartment in the building. These books are perfect for young readers who like history, mysteries, and adventure. I am thrilled to interview Kristin O’Donnell Tubb about this latest installment, and hope you will join us for the launch of The Story Seeker at Parnassus on Thursday, January 30 at 6:30 p.m. —Rae Ann Parker, Director of Books and Events for Young Readers

Rae Ann Parker: You are the author of many wonderful books for young readers, including A Dog Like Daisy and The 13th SignThe Story Collector series came about in a unique turn of events. How did these books begin?

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb: First: Thank you, both for hosting me and for those kind words! I originally heard about a number of families who lived in libraries across the American northwest on NPR many years ago, and I recall imagining what a perfectly lovely childhood that would be. (See both this story and this one.) Fast forward a few years, and I saw another story about these library homes on Atlas Obscura. I’d previously written a few historical fiction children’s books for Macmillan, so when they approached me with the idea of writing the story of the family who lived in the New York Public Library, I leapt at the chance! It was like this story had been sitting on a dusty shelf in a far-away corner and was just waiting for the right person to amble along, seeking it. I was honored to be invited by Macmillan to be a part of this series of books published in conjunction with the New York Public Library.

RAP: Viviani Joffre Fedeler (the inspiration for this series) lived in the New York Public Library with her family. What is the most surprising thing you learned about her life in the library during your research?

KOT: I think most surprising was how very fun and adventuresome the Fedelers were while they lived in the library. (I mean, they played baseball alongside a Gutenberg bible — using books for bases! They kept pigeons as pets on the library roof — until the ASPCA found out!) And not only were they thrill-seekers, they seemed to know what a unique childhood they had. They shared many stories of their years growing up inside the library later in their lives, when they became adults. Viviani was literally born in the library in 1917 and lived there until she was 15 years old. Several interviews with her and her brother John Jr. were published in the 1930s and ’40s. So finding facts and stories about them was relatively easy, as historical fiction goes. They shared so many tales of their escapades that most of the scenes in both The Story Collector and The Story Seeker are based on true adventures they later recounted to the press.

RAP: You visited the New York Public Library and saw Viviani’s apartment. How did it feel to stand in the spot where your character lived?

KOT: Surreal! It’s one thing to look at old photographs and read stories about the Fedeler family and their library home. It’s another to stand in the kitchen where the Fedelers ate their meals, in the living room where they shared stories about their days, in the bedrooms (now offices) where they slept and dreamed. The windows of their apartment once looked out on Bryant Park, but now overlook a newer section of the library: a computer lab. Their apartment was large by Manhattan standards — eight rooms! — and the whole world of knowledge and art was literally right outside their front door. It’s an amazing thing, imagining living there. It was a fantastic experience seeing it.

RAP: The Story Seeker has been compared to the beloved From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Both books have characters who set out on adventures and accomplish things on their own in an unusual setting. Did you learn anything from your characters as you wrote the story?

KOT: Yes — and I believe the answer is always yes — I learn from every character I write! Viviani’s aim in both The Story Collector and The Story Seeker is to share her stories with the world — a goal I can really get behind! Writing a story lover like Viviani helped me clarify what it is about stories that I love: There is no better way for us to connect with one another than through a story. We relate to each other best when we’re sharing our story. And each of us has a truly unique story to share.

RAP: What is your favorite part of writing books for young readers?

KOT: I love the thought that I might be the first person to introduce a new idea to a young reader, and it’s a responsibility I take very seriously! Middle grade readers are reading on their own for the first time in their lives. Because of that, they are introduced to new ideas, outside of the thoughts that are shared with them from a parent or a teacher. And young readers are very honest. I love getting emails that say things like, “I liked Viviani but you really should’ve written more about [her brother] Edouard.” Only kids will be that up front about stories, and I love it!

RAP: And finally, we ask everyone: What’s your favorite thing about indie bookstores?

KOT: When I walk into Parnassus, Bill smiles and says, “Hi, Kristin! How are you today?” in his delightful British accent. Sissy jokes with me about social media, and Niki wants to know how Myrtle the pug is doing. Karen asks me about whatever project I might be working on next, and Rae Ann is simply a dear friend who does all of the above and more. They share which books they’ve loved, and they ask which books I’ve loved. Readers have a relationship with their indie bookstores that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I treasure my friendship with Parnassus and its employees.


Join author Kristin O’Donnell Tubb
as we celebrate the publication of The Story Collector
Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020
6:30 p.m. at Parnassus Books
This event is open to the public and free to attend!