We love trips to our local public library. When we lived in India I used to fantasize about the smallish one in our home town with the faded ‘Just Read!’ decals in the kids’ section. Recalling the musty stacks and the placid expressions of the ladies behind the front counter filled me the warmest of feelings. When we returned to America one of the first things we did (after two weeks of sleeping and staring into the middle distance) was to try out my old library card. The kids and I walked through the front doors and oh! one of them was automatic now. The air inside was artificially cool and still, heavy with the ghosts of words.
We left with a sack full of books that day, and for many days after that. I let the kids select whatever titles caught their attention, reveling in their sheer numbers, and gave little thought to the books’ quality. I figured that they came from the kids’ section at the library and that, overall, they must be good.
After the glow of mountains of free books had largely faded in our minds, however, we grew to see a somewhat disturbing reality at our library. We noticed that its selection of kids’ books had seemed to grow rather silly since we’d been overseas (or maybe it had been happening for a while?) By silly I mean that many of the books the kids brought home were plain stupid and/or appealed to the young reader’s basest nature. Large numbers of them were poorly written with predictable, boring plots and little-to-no redeeming qualities. It was more than disappointing, and it felt like we’d sat down to a potluck dinner only to discover that every dish was a bowl of Cheetos.
Oh, there were still Little Golden Books like Poky Little Puppy in the young kids’ section. And we could still find the odd classic like Little Women tucked between vampire romances. We even discovered some newer titles we thought we’d keep on our short list of favorites. But we soon came to see that visiting the library would require us to use our brains as much as did combing the aisles of Wal-Mart for quality food items.
In other words, we might find treasures or we might not.
Over time, we found that the easiest way to achieve borrowed-book success at the library is to go in like one does to the grocery–with a list. Knowing in advance the book titles you’d like for your children to read, or ones they’ve requested to read, means that you don’t have to spend your time playing hit-or-miss among the stacks.
Sometimes, though, it’s hard to come up with a list of good books for kids off the top of your head (sort-of like trying to think of a movie to rent on date night when it’s your turn to decide). Thankfully there are many solid, ready-made lists floating around on the internet to get you started.
Or this perspective
Picks from librarians
Scholastic’s take on things
One of my favorites (a monster, mother-of-a-list)
A family list from the folks at Common Sense Media
Lists like these can help you make the most of your child’s trips to the library. They can help you to decide which books you’d like to check out before you set foot in the door, as well as save you time, clarify your focus, and reduce your options so that you and your child don’t experience “book overwhelm.” No list is perfect. There may be books that you or your child find on a list that you still don’t like. That’s OK. The point is that you “shop smarter” and reduce disappointment, not that you bat a thousand.
Enjoy your public library (it is such a blessing). Just don’t check your brain at the door.