PROVO When a librarian at the Provo City Library at Academy Square pitched her idea for a children's book to a national publisher, the proposed title got her in the door.
The story behind "The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians" might be even better than the title because there is a real boy who blossomed under the wings of Provo's librarians, later married an English teacher in the library and is about to graduate from college.
Shy and soft-spoken, Ian Perkes was 16 when he started shelving children's books as part of the Job Partnership Training Act program for disadvantaged youth.
Provo's librarians coached him on social skills such as making eye contact with other people and even table etiquette. They told him what books to read and movies to see.
His gratitude soon found a voice in a birthday poem he wrote for librarian Carla Morris titled "To My Librarian Mother."
The poem sparked an idea in Morris that five years later is a hot-selling book that Morris dedicated to Perkes. The first print run of 7,000 is nearly sold out, and "The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians" will be an alternate selection in the Children's Book-of-the-Month Club catalog in May.
"What caught my eye initially was Carla," said Kathy Landwehr, an editor for Peachtree Publishers in Georgia who met Morris at a conference in San Francisco. "She was very charming and personable. I was struck by her personally. After that it was the title, more than anything else. It's the perfect title to catch attention.
"Lots of people in the book business were a child raised by librarians or knew a child like that. I was one."
That didn't make the book a slam dunk. The 32-page children's book took six years to finish.
First, the original manuscript was too close to Perkes' story.
"I took it to my writer's group and they said it was way too serious," Morris said. "So I totally changed it."
The book is about three librarians Marge, Betty and Leola who help kindergarten-aged Melvin on his daily visits to the library. Melvin grows up and goes to college, but will he forget his librarian friends?
Perkes hasn't. In fact, he now works at the library planning events such as his own wedding in the ballroom.
After revisions on her end and then more at Peachtree, the project ground to a halt while awaiting the illustrations of sought-after artist Brad Sneed.
Peachtree signed him to a contract in 2004, but his schedule didn't allow him to work on "The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians" until last summer.
"He was worth waiting for," Landwehr said.
Morris agreed, although she was surprised by the process. She got to add an illustrator's note to the manuscript, asking that the three librarians look completely different. Otherwise, the artistry is completely Sneed's creation.
"I see the advantages," Morris said. "You want to have the illustrator's creativity at work. He told me he visited a lot of older Carnegie libraries to get ideas."
Sneed will bring slides to a book signing tonight at the Provo library to show the evolution of the book's illustrations. At 7 p.m. Morris and Sneed will sign books, which will be on sale for $14.
Morris had always wanted to write a book as a girl in Spokane, Wash., as a student at Brigham Young University and then as a Provo librarian since 1979. The book she wrote on indexing newspapers didn't scratch the itch.
"I'm fascinated by the idea of coming up with a story and having it live on in the minds of children," she said.
She had no idea the project could take so long, a problem exacerbated at the end by the fact so many books are printed overseas.
"It's a long process," she said. "I don't know how anybody makes money on books."
If the second printing sells like the first, she just might find out. Peachtree will look for an international publisher next month at a children's book fair in Italy.