So I found myself being drawn inside the main library and walking past the bookshelves toward this excited huddle of children in the corner.
Wanting to keep well out of sight, I half hid myself behind a bookshelf and looked on from a safe distance. As I watched, the children began to settle down, each of them finding a place to sit on the carpet. Then, quite improbably and inexplicably, they were all hushed and still and attentive. That was the moment I first saw him, sitting there in the corner beyond the children. A unicorn! A real live unicorn! He was sitting absolutely still, his feet tucked neatly underneath him, his head turned toward us. He seemed to be gazing straight at me. I swear his eyes were smiling at me too. He was pure white as unicorns are - white head, body, mane, and tail - white all over except for his golden horn and his little black hooves. And his eyes were blue and shining. It was some moments before I realized he was in fact not real, not live at all. He was too still to be real; his gaze was too constant and stony.
I suddenly felt very cross with myself for having been so stupid as to believe he could have been alive in the first place. Unicorns weren't real. I knew that much. Of course I did. It was quite obvious to me now that this was in fact a wooden unicorn. He had been carved out of wood and painted. But as I came closer, he seemed so lifelike. He looked the way a unicorn should, so magical and mysterious, and if he'd gotten to his feet and trotted off, I still wouldn't have been in the least surprised.
Beside the unicorn, and just as motionless, there now stood a lady with a bright, flowery scarf around her shoulders, her hand resting on the unicorn's flowing mane. She must have noticed me skulking there by the bookshelf, still hesitant, still undecided, because suddenly she was beckoning me to join them. Everyone had turned to stare at me now. I decided I would make a run for it and began to back away. "It's all right," she said. "You can come and join us if you'd like."
So it was that I found myself moments later sitting cross-legged on the floor with the others, watching her and waiting. She was patting the unicorn and smoothing his neck. She sat down on him then, but very carefully. She was treating him as if he were real, as if she didn't want in any way to alarm him. She soothed him, brushing his forehead with the back of her hand. Her hand, like the rest of her, was small and delicate and elegant. All around me now was the silence of expectation. No one moved. Nothing happened. No one said anything.
Suddenly the girl sitting next to me - Anna, it was - spoke up. "The unicorn story, Miss! We want the unicorn story!" Now everyone was clamoring for the same story. "The unicorn story! The unicorn story!"
. . .
That same day, I borrowed my first book from the library. I chose Aesop's Fables because I liked the animals in them, and because the Unicorn Lady had read them to us and I had loved them. I read them aloud to Mother that night when she came up to say good night to me. I read to her instead of her reading to me. It was the first time I'd ever done that. Father came and listened at the doorway while I was reading. He clapped when I'd finished. "Magic, Tomas," he said. "That was magic." There were tears in his eyes too. I hoped it was because he was proud of me. How I loved him being proud of me. And Mother hugged me harder that night than she'd ever hugged me before. She could hardly speak she was so amazed. How I loved amazing Mother.
Excerpted from I Believe in Unicorns by Michael Morpurgo. Copyright © 2006 by Michael Morpurgo. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.