Now, Natalie Ziarnik can direct Ela Area Township Library patrons to her own book in the kids' section.
The head of the library's children's department recently penned and published her first children's book, "Madeleine's Light," based on the real-life relationship between the French sculptor Camille Claudel and a girl who modeled for several of her sculptures in the late 19th century. The book has received positive reviews from Publishers Weekly.
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It's the second book by Ziarnik, who has worked at Ela Library since 2000. The librarian wrote a nonfiction title on the relationship between public schools and libraries, so jumping into children's literature took some adjustment, she said.
"It was strange at first; it didn't feel quite right to make those leaps of imagination," Ziarnik said. "At the same time, I've always loved kids' literature, so it felt like a natural path for me."
Raised in LaSalle, Ziarnik studied at Grinnell College before spending a year in France teaching English. There, she was introduced to Claudel's art.
After earning her master's in comparative literature and library science at the University of Illinois and settling with her husband in Barrington, Ziarnik decided to read more about Claudel when her son took a sculpting class. She was particularly interested in the artist's relationship with Madeleine Boyer, a young model who inspired Claudel to take her art in a new direction.
"No one really knows much about their relationship, so I used to imagine what it was like to fill in the some of the gaps," Ziarnik said.
She attended several children's book writing workshops when she started drafting "Madeleine's Light" in 2007, using any time available to write as she balanced work and family life.
"I've found that the waiting room at a doctor's office is actually a great place to write," Ziarnik said.
In 2009, Ziarnik learned she'd be published by Boyds Mill Press, which produces the Highlights children's magazine series. Though she has yet to meet the book's Scottish illustrator Robert Dunn, she said he captured the spirit of the book.
"I really like the style. It's almost impressionist, which gives it that French feel," she said.
Ziarnik recalled dropping everything when she saw the advance copy of "Madeleine's Light" arrive at her mailbox in mid-April.
"It was just incredible to hold it in my hands, to see that this had actually come true," she said.
The book was officially released May 1. Ziarnik will be part of an authors panel at Printers Row Festival in Chicago on June 9, and Ela Library will hold a book launch party July 10. The book is available online and at most major book stores.
While she's excited about her first foray into children's literature, Ziarnik said she's excited to write more in the future.
"I've got so many ideas, all piled up in my desk somewhere," she said. "I'm trying to be more disciplined about it."