I still remember the scent when I opened the door to the children’s section at the library as a child. I say scent, because the collective smell of the books was beautiful to me. It evoked a sense of excitement—far off places, beloved characters in stories, biographies of interesting people, and so much more. I remember the color of the green tile floors at old Finney, and to this day, if it were still there, I could tell you where my favorite authors were. That was my first library, and it has pride of place in my memory.
In fifth grade, I developed an obsession with the Presidency of John F. Kennedy. I think I read every book on the subject at Finney, even making my way to the adult section when the limited number ran out in the children’s. I could have told you a great deal about the man, the President and his assassination, in detail, at the time. (My mother’s copy of, Death of a President is what got me started!)
My second library was the Wauwatosa Public Library, a beautiful place long before the redesign and building project in the late 1980’s. The children’s section was (and the new one still is) huge compared to Finney. When I first saw it, I felt like I had entered a book lover’s paradise. I carried home stacks of books every week. It was a world of enchantment and fascination in my arms. I learned so much about the world from books. Much more than just sitting in classrooms.
It has been a joy to watch the love affair with the library continue in some of my own children. Some, not all. But our youngest, Emily, loves to read, and already has her favorite authors at the library. I offer up suggestions as we walk through. Some she likes, some she does not. I think some of the books haven’t caught her imagination yet, because she isn’t old enough for some of them. Some books, I don’t recommend to her. There is a great deal of paranormal, bizarre and unacceptable material in the library, especially now. Parents have to be the filter for children. Just as we guard our children from toxins of various kinds physically, we guard our kids from toxic materials for their minds and souls. If it isn’t honest, if it isn’t true and tells lies about the world and parents, etc., if it doesn’t celebrate the good, than it isn’t welcome.
A lot of the children’s authors I loved are no longer found, sadly. New authors come up and the old classics we knew and loved disappear. I looked in vain today for a couple of authors I remembered, but they were not there. I bought up an entire series online of used girls’ books, the Beanie Malone series, that I loved so much. They were written in the 50’s, but I enjoyed them in the 70’s and 80’s. Girls today would not find them interesting at all maybe, but I loved the whole Malone family as the stories followed the motherless family through adulthood. There were a lot of fantastic values conveyed with the hard-working Malones. The author had a real gift for conveying common moral dilemmas and misadventures of American kids in a family. Great lessons were learned by reading the books.
Today, I snapped a photo of Emily who was waiting for me to find my own books. I ended up with a few Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and a 2016 release called, The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s a memoir by John Simpson, and if you think that’s boring, you’re very wrong. I’m already sucked into it.
The digital age has much to recommend it as far as communication and knowledge. But the thought of books, the kind you can hold in your hands and put on shelves, disappearing is a terrible thing. Emily has not yet been allowed into the digital world yet. She’s busy getting an appreciation for words on the page without digital distraction. It’s my strong view that children need to achieve an attention span and not have their brains rewired before they’ve even fully developed.
Emily and I have a read aloud time. She sits in her smaller rocker next to mine and we read a chapter from our current book. It’s a special time for us, beyond just the reading of a story. She also has learned to love audio books on CD for when I can’t read to her. When summer days get long, those give her something fun to do to keep her mind and imagination busy.
There are no guarantees your children will love what you love. But as a parent, you can just set the table, so to speak, and let them sample good things that you lay out. Hopefully, the taste for good books will catch on! It looks like Emily is on her way.