National Library week occurs every year towards the beginning of April. I may have missed the actual celebration this year, but in my mind, we should always be celebrating the librarian, so I’ve put together a few outstanding nonfiction picture books about librarians for this week’s nonfiction picture book challenge.
One of my all time favorites is Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, by Jan Pinborough. This book tells the story of how Anne Carroll Moore created libraries for children. It is hard for children today to comprehend that we live in a world where girls are not expected to just stay home and take care of the children. It is also hard for children, and adults for that matter, to comprehend a time when children were not welcome in libraries. When librarians didn’t want kids to touch books for fear that they would hurt them (a la The Library Dragon). It was not until 1896 that the first library room designed for children was even created, and Miss Moore was given free rein to implement her ideas about how it should be run, including a pledge for kids wanting to take out books, story times, and the removal of “silence” signs. Miss Anne Moore was a major force behind publishing companies seeing the sense in publishing more books aimed at children and to make sure that they were quality books. This book is full of wonderful history about Miss Moore and about the public library system.
Miss Anne Moore opened the doors of the library to children, but not all people have always felt that the libraries were a place for them. Groups that have especially felt this way are immigrants. In The Storyteller’s Candle, by Lucía González, we are told the story of Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian to be hired by the New York Public Library system. The children in this story believed that the libraries were not for them. Not only were they children, but the adults felt that because they didn’t speak English that they would not be welcome in the library. Fortunately, New York city was very forward thinking at the time and had Belpré working in Harlem and doing outreach in schools. Once the children learned that they were welcome in the libraries, they got their families to come. This book is also written in both Spanish and English.
Having grown up in a big city, I spent my childhood checking out books from a variety of large public libraries. There were wonderful children’s departments and, as I grew older, I was able to access really great research options. Gloria Houston’s book, Miss Dorothy and Her Bookmobile, reminds us that not all parts of this country have always had access to libraries, but there have always been wonderful librarians who figure out a solution to the problem. Dorothy Thomas grew up in Massachusetts and as a child had decided that she would become a librarian “in charge of a fine brick library.” But she wound up moving to rural North Carolina to an area with no library. When she suggested starting a library, the community instead put together money to fund a bookmobile and she became the librarian. Dorothy Thomas did finally get an actual library structure, but regardless of where she was, she made a huge difference in the lives of the community that she worked in. An awesome reminder of how valuable the library and librarians are.
“Around the world, there are may librarians, and libraries, that travel long distances,” explains Monica Brown in the author’s note of her book, Waiting for the Biblioburro. Her book was inspired by Luis Soriano Bohórquez who delivered books to children in remote villages of Colombia. Many children can see themselves in the eyes of Ana, a young girl who loves to read and tell stories. She only owns one book and she has read it over and over and over again. One day a man comes to town with a sign that reads Biblioburro. He reads to the children and allows them to pick out books. The hardest part about a roving library like this is that the children never know when he will be back, but perhaps that waiting can work to spark creative ingenuity as well. A sweet reminder about smaller communities and things we take for granted.
A final addition to the roving librarian is in That Book Woman, by Heather Henson. This book is a work of fiction that was “inspired by the true and courageous work of the Pack Horse Librarians, who were known as ‘Book Women’ in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky.” The Pack Horse Librarians was a project founded by FDR’s Works Progress Administration to bring books to remote regions of the US. What is lovely about this book is that it is told from the perspective of Cal, the oldest boy in the family who doesn’t understand how his older sister can sit still and read chicken scratch. But when a book woman brings books to their home and even is tough enough to ride around in the dead of winter, he finally decides that he wants to know “what makes that Book Woman risk catching cold, or worse,” so he asks his sister to teach him to read. I’m a sucker for a book like this, but also inspired by the historic book women.
In the true spirit of a librarian loving her books and fully believing in their value comes the book The Librarian of Basra, by Jeanette Winter. This book tells the true story of Alia Muhammad Baker who is the librarian in Basra, Iraq. When war came to her community, she managed to save 30,000 books by slowly sneaking them out and hiding them in her home and in the homes of her family and friends. The book ends with Alia waiting for the war to end and for a new library, a dream that became reality in October of 2004. This book shows the value of books, of coming together to share in a love of books, and in one woman’s extreme dedication to save a library.
I have always thought of libraries as places for everyone, but I know that not all that far back in our history, that wasn’t the case. Just look at the movie Hidden Figures in the scene where the character of Dorothy Vaughn takes a book from the white section of the library because they didn’t have advanced computing books in the colored section. Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden give us a slightly disnified version of the time that Ron McNair fought to get a library card in their book, Ron’s Big Mission. McNair became an astronaut with NASA and unfortunately lost his life in the Challenger explosion, but before that, he was a smart little boy in a town that didn’t have a colored library. This story tells a fictionalized version of Ron deciding that it was high time he get a library card of his own. You can read about the real events of that day on NPR, but I thought it was worth including to remember an important part of library history.
Every Wednesday I try to post a non-fiction picture book as part of the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are truly so many amazing nonfiction picture books being published these days, it can be hard to contain myself sometimes. Make sure to check out Kid Lit Frenzy and the linked blogs to find some more fabulous books!