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Books saved from waste extend the story cycle

  • 03 April 2018


The brick path curves through the native garden and arrives at the front steps of an inner-city house — a Californian Bungalow with a deep front verandah. Sheltered by the low verandah wall are stacks of children's books packed into plastic crates, neatly labelled and with clip-on lids.

They're sorted into categories, labels facing outwards — picture books; story collections; junior fiction; non-fiction; activity books. Here is where Storycycle stores some of the hundreds of books it will soon give away.

In the back room, light filters through the sage greys of the wattles; outside, the last of the summer tomatoes lean against their stakes in the vegetable patch. Spread along the dining table, more tubs of books are ready for sorting. Jill Allan collects up a picture book, one hand cradling the spine and covers, the other leafing through the pages. Her long fingers hold the book steady as she turns the pages, sensing their weight, pausing as her eyes scan the text and pictures.

Over the last 12 months Jill has sorted through 6000 second-hand children's books, collected by agreement with Savers thrift stores. Every Tuesday Jill and her husband collect several tubs of unsold books from their local Savers. Jill culls the books, checking for rips and scribbles and looking for newish quality reads.

As this tall, slender, silver-haired librarian meets the book in her hands, a smile flickers at the corners of her mouth — as if meeting a child who is familiar but shy. Like an adept school nurse, she makes her observations, does a bit of patching and sends the child back out to play.

Every month now, a new crate of books from Storycycle sits on a bench at a food bank in Melbourne's north. As Badger says in Barry Lopez' story Crow and Weasel, 'Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.' The food bank is now a place for both food and story nourishment.

Jill wants to see good stories in circulation. As she holds a book in her hands she asks herself, 'Would a child want this?' She's been a children's librarian for years, she's read the research. The number of books in the home is a crucial factor influencing language and literacy outcomes for children. In quiet understatement she remarks, 'It's hard to become literate without access to books.'


"Their vision statement says they want 'to see children's books fall apart through love and