Gracie’s old friend, The Robin, came to visit early one morning.
“I heard things are going very well for you now, Friend Chicken,” she said and did a slow, courtly bow.
They both chuckled about how she was being so formal.
“It is good to see you, Friend Robin. I never had a real chance to thank you for teaching me so many things about dancing ballet. You are very smart. Much smarter than I am.”
“You know heart things, Gracie. Heart things are what truly matter. We songbirds know other kinds of things.”
“How did you know my name? I haven’t seen you to tell you what it is.”
“A wren who enjoys visiting this garden told me. The wrens are almost always the first to learn anything new. Along with the sparrows, they spread out everywhere. We songbirds know a great many things about the world. Our lives are for more than simply filling your garden home with song.”
“What do you mean?”
“People welcome songbirds. We visit their yards and gardens. We sing. We entertain. People enjoy listening to us and watching us, but we are secretly listening to them and watching them. They do not realize it, though. Even if someone told them we do more than sing, they would not believe it. To them, we are only songbirds.
“For the most part, we travel freely. And because of that, we are able to collect knowledge. It may be as simple as how you got your name, or it may be as complicated as how to design doors a bird can open and close.”
“That kind of door might be useful one day,” said Gracie. “Especially since all the ones I have ever seen need hands to make them work.”
“Songbirds are The Living Library,” said The Robin. “And I am a Page.”
Gracie did not know what to say. She was a birds, just like The Robin, but she had never heard about any kind of library for birds. Gracie wondered if this was a secret The Robin was sharing only with her.
“You have seen The Gardener writing on the pages in a notebook, haven’t you? Birds have no way to write what we know. We have only our voices. Songbirds collect knowledge. Everywhere we are singing about what we know. It is combined with our regular songs and calls.
“Everything we songbirds have ever learned is in the air all the time. It is being repeated and carried around the world. That way, when one of us dies, no knowledge is lost. It continues. Our songs and our knowledge are all we have.
“The Gardener and the other people you see passing by on the street are moving through the greatest collection of knowledge ever created. It surrounds them like an unseen ocean. Even though they hear it throughout the day, they are unaware.
“What we songbirds know could fill hundreds and thousands of notebooks. That is why we are called The Living Library.”
For Gracie, this seemed too huge to imagine. There were still parts of our own garden where she had never ventured.
“None of us can know everything, and so each Page is devoted to only a particular topic. Some of us even hold the knowledge of the ancient creatures no longer on this earth. Those songbirds are the most protected Pages of all. If something should happen to them, the knowledge they have been saving since the very first birds sang would be lost forever.
“Birds live everywhere and can travel everywhere. Some of us near your own home here, the cormorants, dive under the river water and collect knowledge there. Others farther away, the penguins, are even greater divers. They dive under the ocean and learn the songs of the whales. The penguins teach those songs and whatever else they know to the Arctic terns, the only songbirds that travel from pole to pole.”
Gracie tried to imagine a chicken doing any of those things. Like other chickens, she disliked even a small sprinkling of rain and only ever flew short distances.
“All knowledge is important. We do not know which pieces of knowledge will be needed to preserve the world. Beyond these garden walls, the world is changing. One day, those changes will come here.”
Then The Robin added softly, “But none of that is as important as what your heart knows, Gracie.”
“What do you mean?”
“We can tell you news of what is going on beyond your garden gate. We can give you answers and can tell you how to do things like dancing. We can even tell you what the ancient world was like and recite whale songs for you. But without what your heart knows, it is all useless information. It takes the wisdom in a heart like yours to unlock the power of knowledge.”
Gracie had never thought about what her heart knew. Her heart just knew what it knew.
“Well, I still look up to you,” she said. “I wish I could be more like you. I am not much of anything except a ballet dancer, and that is only because of what you taught me.”
“On the contrary, Gracie. All songbirds look up to chickens. You live closest to people. That is why we help chickens first. You have the best chance to save all birds, even our common predators like the hawks.
“You only need to ask a question. If a songbird does not know the answer, it will go and find the answer from a different Page in The Living Library. Whatever you need to know will be brought to you as long as it is known.
“Sometimes you do not even need to ask a songbird. We will simply come and help you.
“Do you remember the first day I visited you? It was not by accident. A wren told me about you and how you might need me.
“From time to time, you may look up and see us quietly watching over you, always at the ready. You may hear us early, even before the sun rises, as we begin to sing. You may be asleep or almost waking. Either way, we will sing into your dreams.”
“And what will you sing into our dreams?”
“We will sing whatever knowledge you may need for the day ahead. We will sing what we know into your dreams so softly you will not be aware we were even there.
“We are fine with you thinking the knowledge is your own. Our knowledge has its greatest value only when it is combined with the wisdom in a heart like yours.”
A troubled look came over Gracie’s face.
“Did you sing into my dreams the night before I danced in front of everyone to get rid of The Bigger Scary Thing?”
“That was all your accomplishment. None of us has ever needed to sing into your dreams. But we have watched over you to keep you safe.”
Gracie felt relieved. She would not have minded if The Robin had sung into her dreams, but Gracie was glad to have accomplished something as important as facing The Bigger Scary Thing on her own. She was sure nothing could ever be more difficult.
“If you remember, I was not there for your performance when The Bigger Scary Thing was no more. I stayed away so that you would know for sure it was all your decision and your doing.
“But the ones who provided your dancing music told me, and I made sure that day of your life was recorded in The Living Library.”
Gracie smiled her biggest smile. Next to Bessie, The Robin was her best friend ever.
“If there was anything I thought you needed to know, then I would just tell you because you are my friend.
“Just like a seed, you already have everything you need within yourself to do whatever you are meant to do. Sometimes we songbirds simply sing to set it free.
“Let the seed within you grow, and you will grow with it. Then you will learn The Promise Of Seeds.”
In the branches above them, a pair of wood thrushes trilled in agreement.
“So tell me about those doors,” Gracie whispered. “The ones we birds can open and close without hands. It sounds splendidly secretive.”
They huddled closer together.
“The most important thing to remember is—” she began.
What neither of them suspected was that one day Gracie would use what she had learned about those special doors to help her face The Biggest Scary Thing.