When I was five, my sister Sharon was born. I remember my mother pushing the baby carriage north on Yonge Street while I walked beside her carrying my ballet shoes. It was Saturday morning and we were on our way to Miss Baucham’s School of Dance on Keewatin Ave, quite a long walk from Manor Road where we lived. We must have taken the streetcar in the winter, but in my mind we’re always walking on a balmy spring day.

    I loved dancing. Little girls were allowed to go en pointe in those years before people realized how bad that is for growing feet and I loved everything about the experience from padding my toes with lamb’s wool toe pads and tying the shiny pink ribbons to stretching at the bar as Miss Baucham called out encouragement. It was a magical way to spend Saturday mornings. Even more magical was what happened afterwards. Dressed again in street shoes, my tutu replaced by a pleated flannel skirt, I followed my mother across Yonge Street to the St. Clement’s Branch of the Toronto Public Library. Here I discovered the love of my life – shelves and shelves of books. In those post-war years, children’s books were hard to come by. They had to be imported from Britain or the United States. During the war, when paper had been scarce, printing children’s books had not been a priority so I had only a few books at home. I couldn’t believe the treasures offered freely at the library.

    My mental snapshot of the children’s librarian calls up a lady in a crepe wool dress of a muddy shade of blue (it was mostly her skirt I could see from my low vantage point) who read wonderful stories to small groups of children each Saturday morning. And once she finished she handed the book to some lucky child. One morning the book was placed in my hands. I could hardly believe my eyes. It was a wonderful book – Ola, Boy of the North by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire. The next week, when I asked for another just like that, she gave me Children of the North Lights by the same author/illustrators. I had no idea at that time that my grandparents, although Swedish-speaking, had grown up in Finland. I just knew that something elemental in those pictures tugged at me. To this day I can see Ola with his round face and red tassled cap, beaming out at me.