ABOUT JEN SWANN DOWNEY
Jen Swann Downey’s non-fiction pieces have appeared in New York Magazine, the Washington Post, Women’s Day, and other publications. She is the author of two middle-grade novels, THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: THE ACCIDENTAL KEYHAND (Sourcebooks 2014) and THE NINJA LIBRARIANS: SWORD IN THE STACKS (Sourcebooks 2016).
So far in life, Jen has learned how to fail at growing broccoli, dismount a horse by sliding down its neck, and eat a piece of coconut pie with maximum possible pleasure, if not tidiness. The last skill comes in handy whenever she is haunted by that crushing post-apocalyptic episode of Twilight Zone in which the dude finally has the time to read all the books he wants, but then accidentally steps on his eyeglasses.
Jen is hard at a work on the THIRD book in the NINJA LIBRARIANS series. She will never stop looking for lickable wallpaper.
Since I was a young kid, I’ve been awed by those who have spoken “truth to power” often at great cost to themselves. I am enjoying, through writing the NINJA LIBRARIANS fantasy adventures, posing questions about what exactly we mean by intellectual freedom, why it might have value, and what it means to uphold such a principle in every day life.
About how, for instance, a chasm can exist between theoretical support for the principle of intellectual freedom and the actions we take or don’t take when confronted with speech/writing we find dangerous, stupid, hurtful, or otherwise offensive. It’s so tempting to ignore cases of censorship of viewpoints we don’t share, or viewpoints we actively disagree with.
I think the seed for the NINJA LIBRARIANS series was planted when I saw the phrase “Petrarch’s Library” scrawled on a notebook I found in our never-very-organized, and always-very-clutterful house. Everyone in the family denied being the scrawler, but the phrase ignited my imagination, especially after I looked it up and found it associated with a collection of books that the 14th century humanist and poet, Petrarch, had carried around with him when he traveled on the back of a donkey.
That made me laugh, because the phrase had suggested some sort of grand magnificent library. But then I thought, well, even a small collection of books IS a sort of imaginary grand magnificent place because each of the books is a doorway into a different world of ideas, and knowledge, and story.
Suddenly I was imagining “Petrarch’s Library” as a solid, if sprawling building, made out of library chambers from different times and places knitted together by magic into one incredible super-library.
I’ve always had the feeling that librarians were masquerading at doing something mundane while actually doing something incredible, mysterious and magical. It seemed reasonable that the work of lybrarians with a “y” who staffed the imaginary Petrarch’s Library would defend and protect the flow of information in shall we say, some additional warrior-ish direct action ways!
Terry Pratchett is one of my heroes. I respect and delight in the way he tackles serious subjects through humor. I hope readers of my books who may not have thought about the topic of intellectual freedom in a while, or lately, or ever, will join me in exploring it while having a rollicking good time!