In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Libraries and bookstores

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I've been thinking, this week, about the books we own versus the books we take out of the library. We've become big library-goers, often requesting books online to be delivered to our local branch, and visiting at least once a week for toddler storytime and to check out more books. For a while, I tried to limit the number we were taking home, but that has fallen by the wayside, and we now usually have between 10 and 15 out at a time.

Every Tuesday morning, before we go to the library, I take down all the books we have checked out and go through them with Eleanor, deciding which we'll give back that week and which she'd like to renew. If she wants to renew something over and over, and we're reading it all the time, I'll put it on my list of books to buy. Of course, there are many wonderful books that we don't buy. Sometimes she'll remember these and ask for them again; sometimes seeing them in the library or having a conversation with her will prompt me to check them out again, and I'm always a little surprised when Eleanor has no memory of having read them before. (Though of course she forgets things. She's 3.)

This weeks' rediscovery is a marvelous Ezra Jack Keats classic: Whistle for Willie.

The story of Peter trying to learn to whistle to call his dog Willie is simple and lovely. There's something very pure about Peter's play: hiding in a carton on the street as he tries to whistle for Willie, drawing a long line with colored chalk on the sidewalk, putting on his father's old hat and pretending to be his father while talking with his mother. He's just hanging out on the street in a pleasant, solo, meandering sort of way, the way thoughtful kids playing alone will. Keats's illustrations are brightly-colored collages of the city streets, and seem to come directly from Peter's perceptions: when he spins around to get dizzy because he's tired of trying to whistle, the red, green, and yellow lights on the streetlight get dizzy too, hopping out of their places and dancing about. We have read this book at least twelve times since Tuesday, often twice in a row.

Many of the books we own have come to us as gifts (a great number, of course, from you!); others are books I've bought for Eleanor, often online, so that her experience is that books you keep arrive in a box. They are also, of course, books you can return to over and over, books you can rediscover in your own home after fallow periods.

Last week, we got to go to a children's bookstore: the excellent Books of Wonder. I told Eleanor that she could pick out one book to buy, and we browsed together through the shelves. After picking out and discarding several choices (so odd to be limited to one book!), she settled on a book we're both happy to own: Mo Willems's Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity.

This is, of course, the sequel to Willems's Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, which we've taken out of the library a few times itself. In both books, Willems combines colored cartoon-like drawings with black and white photos of Park Slope, Brooklyn, as he tells the tale of his daughter, Trixie, and her adored stuffed rabbit, Knuffle Bunny. In the first book, she loses Knuffle Bunny at the laundromat and can't yet talk to let her father know what's happened; in the second, she and another girl bring their Knuffle Bunnies to school on the same day and accidentally go home with the wrong bunny. The kid details are pitch-perfect, and both books are very funny to read if you're the parent of a young child.

I say that I'm happy to own this book, and I am, but it's probably not the single book I would have chosen to buy that day. So my question, for you and any readers out there, is this: what do you buy and what do you borrow? How do you make those decisions? Aunt Debbie, has working in a bookstore changed your opinion on this question at all?

Love, Annie


  1. We too are HUGE library goers. My 5yo has had a card for two years now and I often reserve books for her on her card, my card AND my husband's card because there are so many I hear of and want to check out before buying and the library has a limit of 10 holds per card! Anyway, I try to only buy books I think are really special but sometimes let the children choose and end up with things that are not so great. I also request from the library non-fiction books on topics the kids are interested in... wish I could have a huge science section at home but I can't afford it!

    On separate notes - LOVE Mo Willems (esp. the Knuffle Bunny books; some of the Pigeon ones and the Elephant and Piggie ones are good too) and LOVE Books of Wonder - it was there that I discovered Jan Ormerod's wordless books Sunshine and Moonlight. Our local children's bookstore, Bank St. books is also wonderful, with a very helpful and knowledgeable staff. They recommended to me one of my very favorite children's books, THe Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven. The illustrations (also done by Kleven) are beautiful (except for the people figures which I think ruin it a bit) and the story is lovely - of a bird and lion who can't communicate but help each other and become friends, with a twist at the end explaining why the lion's tail is a different color every day. Its about so many things - friendship, communication, the power of art.

    We also own a number of classics, books I can't imagine not owning - Corduroy, Harry the Dirty Dog and numerous others. Would love to see a post about your favorite classics and which you think are overrated.

  2. I just checked - we have 17 books out on my card, all for the kids, 5 on H's card, 4 of which are for kids, and not sure how many on my husband's card. My only problem is I find we don't always have time to read them all!