By Katie Lovett
---- — For 12 years, Laurie Collins delighted the smallest visitors to the Newbury Town Library as she entertained and educated the children who attended Story Time.
Collins would use those sessions to share a story’s lesson and to communicate her love of reading — but, often, she also had a much bigger mission in place.
Collins, 56, would use the Story Time program to hold various drives and to collect materials for children and families in need, including clothing and sneakers. Each winter, she hosted pajama drives for the Brighton-based charity Cradles to Crayons, which provides essential items to children in low-income families.
“That turned out to be my very favorite,” Collins said.
As she and library patrons organized the drive each year, the conversation would often turn to the cherished ritual of bedtime. “We would often talk about what a wonderful time of the day it is usually, when you put your child to bed at night. One of my favorite things when my boys were growing up was bedtime and books. It was a lovely way to end the day.”
Parents tuck their children in and watch as they fall asleep, wondering what their children are thinking or if they are dreaming about their favorite things, Collins said.
“Cradles to Crayons made me stop and think not every child goes off to bed feeling safe and warm,” she said. “All children should have the potential to be whatever they want to be. We should make that possible, as a society, to keep them safe and warm at night with plenty to eat.”
However, as she sought to explain the charity and the mission of the pajama drives to her young visitors, she struggled to find the perfect book to describe the importance of pajamas and the goal of the charity in a way her little friends could understand.
So, Collins, who left her position as children’s librarian in Newbury one year ago for a position in Ipswich, decided to rectify that problem while also fulfilling a long-held goal.
As a joint project with her longtime friend Margie Florini, Collins wrote a children’s book, “The Pajamas of My Dreams.” Florini, a friend of Collins since their high school days in Beverly, illustrated the story. She operates Florini Fine Arts in Manchester-by-the-Sea.
“We always said, ‘Someday we’ll do a book together,’” Collins said.
Released this week, that book, illustrated in cut-paper collage format, ponders the question that all children face — “what will I be when I grow up?” Collins ties the question to bedtime and tells of children falling asleep and dreaming of their futures.
“Tomorrow’s bakers might see cupcakes and confections sprinkled on the pajamas of their dreams, while budding entomologists envision ants and butterflies on theirs,” Collins writes in a description of her story.
At the end of the book, Collins shares the important overall message of her story in a way that children can relate. Parents can use that message to begin a dialogue with their children, she said.
“I wish for cozy pajamas that smell fresh and clean. They are fuzzy and wooly and keep me toasty even if my bedroom is cold,” she writes. “I dream of going to sleep with a full belly, in pajamas that fit well enough to keep me protected from the cold all night long. I dream I will wake in the morning rested and ready for school. I dream of being warm and safe in my bed at night.”
Collins and Florini held a formal launch of the book this week at the Roots to Wings Yoga Studio in Byfield before a crowd of pajama-clad children and families — many of whom were loyal patrons of Collins in Newbury, as well as several Ipswich families. The launch also served as a pajama drive for Cradles to Crayons.
With one book completed, the pair is already planning their second book — and possibly even other stories that will follow.
“I’m overwhelmed with how closely it fit with what I hoped for,” Collins said of Florini’s illustrations. “It just pops off the page. It gives kids so many things to look at.”
Collins will hold a book signing at Jabberwocky Bookshop, 50 Water St., Newburyport, on Sunday, March 3, at 3 p.m. Once again, Collins will be collecting pajamas to donate to Cradles to Crayons. Jabberwocky will be serving cookies and milk during the Story Time.