Stories that I tell my children #1 The Bookcase and the Boy

“Tell-me-a-story-tell-me-a-story-tell-me-a-story, oh, you promised!”

I did.

 So here’s the story with no name that I promised my son (because most nights I make up stories and I never write them down and never edit or share them and then they are forgotten so here is one, just one, that wasn’t). 

Once upon a time there was a tree in the forest and the tree was home to three squirrels, five birds, a hundred thousand caterpillars, a million woodlice, and a host of slugs and snails. Beneath its roots lay a warren full of rabbits and around the corner lived the fox who fed on them. Every night, a badger came snuffling by, seeking acorns and grubs. It was a big tree.

One day, a man came by and he cut down the tree, and laid it on a trailer to be taken to the local mill to be made into planks. When this was done, the remainder was sent to the local paper mill to be mashed into pulp for paper.

The planks were made into a shelves, honed by the local carpenter who spent many days shaping it into the most beautiful bookcase, and that bookcase ended up in the house of a local doctor, whose son and daughter gazed at it while it was shunted from the hallway into their father’s study. From that day on, the little boy would sit for hours running his fingers over the edges, which were carved into the shapes of mice and beetles.

The wood pulp was made into paper, and some of that paper was made in turn into a book of poetry and tales.

By chance — and it’s a rare chance, because this has only happened three times in the history of the world, there being so many people and trees, and so many books and houses — by chance, the book of poetry was sent as a gift to the doctor who put it in his beautiful bookcase.

When the book was placed on the shelf, it recognised the wood that had once been itself, and it spoke, and the bookcase trembled as if a breeze was blowing in from the forest. And because all the life that once depended on the tree had seeped into the tree, the shelf replied to the book.

As the book and shelf conversed into the night, the words fell from the book’s poems, mingled with the thoughts of the shelf and the pages, and the letters re-ordered themselves into the most beautiful collection of stories about forests that had ever been. In reply, the bookcase quivered with remembered life until roots sprouted from its base and bore through the doctor’s study floor, and its upper shelves burst forth with buds that reached through the ceiling, towards the sky.

As the little boy sat beside the shelves one morning, he saw the roots growing through the floor and the leaves poking up through the ceiling and he gasped. While he tried to work out whether to feel enchanted or afraid, he also felt the vibrations of the book, and he reached out. As he turned the pages, he felt the air of the forest cooling his skin and blowing his hair. He heard the tweeting of birds, and smelt the earth. The hiss-whisper of leaves soothed him, and the stories unfolded until he knew by heart all the animals who had lived in the tree.

When he finished the book, he felt the bookcase looming over him, and he heard its plea: “Please don’t tell anyone that my roots have made holes in your father’s floor, or that my leaves have spoilt his ceiling. I’m alive, and I want to live. I can’t bear them to cut me down again. If you keep my secret, I will let you read this book whenever you want, for as long as you live.”

The boy nodded, and he kept the bookcase’s secret, and no one else noticed that the bookcase and the book both lived again.

As the years passed, the boy grew into a man.  His sister left and his father died, but the boy stayed in the house. Every day, he smiled and spoke with the bookcase that grew from the house’s foundations right up through its roof to the sky, and every day, for as long as he lived, he enjoyed the most beautiful book about forests that had ever been.


My child sleeps.


Image attribution


  1. Chris says:

    This is fabulous! I so want to have such a book and bookcase.
    Maybe you could record your stories while you tell them to your children, so that you don’t lose them.

    • t upchurch says:

      Thanks, Chris. It would be interesting to record one or two, although these aren’t stories that are written for the children, they’re very much made up on the spot and it either flows or it doesn’t. (I was glad the night before when he went to sleep before the story’s end, because I couldn’t think of an end!) It could be fun to try, see what comes out. I guess in later life, they could enjoy listening to their mum *try*… 😉

  2. sxchristopher says:

    This is marvelous! I so liked how the tree didn’t just have songbirds and squirrels but was home to wood lice and slugs and snails, too (and the nice echo of these creatures in the mice and beetles carved in the bookcase), though maybe for children squirrels and snails are equally adorable (If this is true, I wonder when the yuck factor kicks in). But most of all I think I liked the conversation of the book of poetry and the shelf, and the burst of life that this interplay of the crafts of the word and the hand occasioned. Thanks.

    • tupchurch says:

      Thank you, S, for your kind comment. The bookcase in the story reflects our house, which is full of holes that tiny creatures use for their homes and highways. We’re a house of people and earwigs, woodlice, mice, spiders, beetles and occasionally snails. It’s our little link to the outside world; my kids are used to it as a theme in our stories.

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