Library Love

Libraries hold count­less books of knowl­edge, wis­dom, imag­i­na­tion, pos­si­bil­i­ties. They are places with access to tech­nol­o­gy for any­one with a library card, places for tutor­ing stu­dents, places for sto­ry time.  We want to look at books about these mag­i­cal places, por­tals to our world, our selves, and oth­er worlds and selves we might become. We have sto­ries of the mag­ic of libraries and the pas­sion of those who build libraries and share them with readers.

When the Babies Came to Stay Christine McDonnell

In When the Babies Came to Stay writ­ten by Chris­tine McDon­nell and illus­trat­ed by Jeanette Bradley, four babies mys­te­ri­ous­ly arrive on a small island with notes ask­ing for shel­ter, safe­ty, and lov­ing care. The island librar­i­an takes them home to raise in — where else? — the library where she lives in the attic. She names them Agatha, Bri­an, Charles, and Dorothy, all with her last name of Book.

The islanders pitch in, mak­ing cribs from lob­ster traps, cov­er­lets from sails, teach­ing the Books sea chanties, fish­ing, how to rec­og­nize birds, (and of course, how to read) because “the babies belonged to the island.” We see the babies grow­ing in Jeanette Bradley’s soft­ly col­ored illus­tra­tions with plen­ty of white space that evokes the open sky above the sea.

When oth­er island chil­dren ask why the Books don’t look alike and why they live at the library, the librar­i­an explains that some ques­tions don’t have answers but that their par­ents sent them with love to a place where they would be safe and that “where we’re going is more impor­tant than where we came from.” 

 The sto­ry ends:

A, B, C, D, and E [the librar­i­an Eleanor] were a set of Books.

The library was where they lived,

and the island was where they belonged.”

Who would­n’t want to live in an island library, cared for and raised by folks who love them?

The Library Sarah Stewart and David Small

Libraries have to come from some­where. And we want to include a cou­ple of books about col­lect­ing books. The Library (Far­rar, Straus & Giroux), by Sarah Stew­art and illus­trat­ed by David Small is first about a read­er. It’s a clas­sic, pub­lished in 1995, and named by the New York Times as one of the best books of that year. The book is ded­i­cat­ed to “To the mem­o­ry of the real Mary Eliz­a­beth Brown, Librar­i­an, Read­er, Friend 1920 – 1992.” 

The real Mary Eliz­a­beth Brown inspired a charm­ing “tall­ish” tale, about a per­son who loves to read and always has. As a child she man­u­fac­tured library cards and loaned books to her friends.  She shares with the Babies the fact of mys­te­ri­ous ori­gin, she “dropped straight down from the sky.”

As an adult she only cares about books, acquires more and more until her house can­not hold anoth­er. Then Eliz­a­beth Brown march­es to the town cour­t­house where she signs over all her pos­ses­sions. Her house becomes the Eliz­a­beth Brown Free Library, and she moves in with a friend, who makes reg­u­lar vis­its to the library with her.

This book is writ­ten in a lilt­ing rhyme that makes it fun to read, fun to hear. And David Small’s illus­tra­tions invite us to spend extra time with each spread.

We writ­ers love sto­ries about peo­ple who do just what they want, espe­cial­ly when what they want is to buy books and read.

Schomburg The Man Who Built a Library Eric Velasquez Carole Boston Weatherford

Eliz­a­beth Brown start­ed a library. We aren’t told what books she bought. Car­ole Boston Weath­er­ford has told a sto­ry of anoth­er per­son who start­ed a library, amassed a col­lec­tion and gave it away — Arturo Schom­burg — in the book Schom­burg The Man Who Built a Library, illus­trat­ed by Eric Velasquez (Can­dlewick, 2017).

In a series of prose poems Weath­er­ford tells the sto­ry of a man born in Puer­to Rico in 1874. When Arturo was in fifth grade he was told by a teacher that “Africa’s sons and daugh­ters had no his­to­ry, no heroes.”  That ran­kled the boy and at some point he real­ized that could not be true. In 1891 he emi­grat­ed to New York City. In a poem titled “Book Hunt­ing Bug,” Weath­er­ford tells of Schomburg’s ear­ly efforts to locate sto­ries of African Amer­i­cans. He found a book of poems by Phillis Wheat­ley, books by Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, writ­ings about the Hait­ian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader Tou­s­saint Louverture.

Weath­er­ford writes Schom­burg, “chased the truth and turned up icons whose African Amer­i­can her­itage had been white­washed.” For exam­ple, few knew that John James Audubon had been the son of a French plan­ta­tion own­er and a Cre­ole cham­ber­maid. And the African her­itage of oth­ers had also been erased: Pushkin’s great grand­fa­ther had been kid­napped from Cen­tral Africa; Alexan­der Dumas was a descen­dant of slaves; Beethoven’s moth­er was said to be a Moor.

In pur­su­ing his life’s work,this mail­room clerk sup­port­ed Mar­cus Garvey’s news­pa­per and cor­re­spond­ed with Book­er T. Wash­ing­ton and W.E.B. DuBois.

He loaned his books to stu­dents, artists, and writ­ers and served on a com­mit­tee formed to start a Negro branch of the New York Pub­lic Library. As he acquired more and more books his house filled up. There were even books in the bath­room. Even­tu­al­ly the Carnegie Cor­po­ra­tion bought his entire col­lec­tion — more than 5000 books, sev­er­al thou­sand pam­phlets and price­less prints and papers. Weath­er­ford quotes Schom­burg, “I am proud to be able to do some­thing that may mean inspi­ra­tion for the youth of my race.”

This beau­ti­ful book is for read­ers old enough to won­der about oth­er lives. And it has a dual pur­pose. It tells of the remark­able life and accom­plish­ments of Arturo Schom­burg. And it tells of the remark­able lives he learned about in pur­su­ing his passion.

Love in the Library Maggie Tokuda-Hall Yas Imamura

Love in the Library by Mag­gie Toku­da-Hall, illus­trat­ed by Yas Ima­mu­ra, is set in Minido­ka, a World War II intern­ment camp sur­round­ed by barbed wire, guard tow­ers, and desert where peo­ple are impris­oned sim­ply for being Japan­ese Amer­i­can. Tama, one of the pris­on­ers, works in the library.  George, anoth­er pris­on­er, waits at the door every day to return yes­ter­day’s stack of books and check out more books.

When the library is qui­et, Tama escapes into books.  “Pressed between their cov­ers were words that plant­ed seeds in the gar­den of Tama’s mind.  How mag­i­cal that — even in Minido­ka — such a small lit­tle library could fit so much inside of its four walls!”

When Tama asks George how he can read all the books he checks out each day, she real­izes he does­n’t just come for the books but to see “what he held close to his heart … Tama.” Even­tu­al­ly, impris­oned in “a place built to make peo­ple feel like they weren’t human,” they mar­ry and have a baby. The sto­ry ends with a line from the jour­nal that Tama (the author’s grand­moth­er) kept in the camp: “The mir­a­cle is in all of us. As long as we believe in change, in beau­ty, in hope.”

Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter

The Librar­i­an of Bas­ra by Jeanette Win­ter, illus­trat­ed in bold col­ors by the author, begins with a quote by Alia Muhammed Bak­er, the real librar­i­an of Bas­ra in this true sto­ry: “In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammed was ‘Read.”’

Ali­a’s library in Bas­ra, Iraq, is “a meet­ing place for all who love books.” War threat­ens, and Alia wor­ries that the library and its books, “more pre­cious to her than moun­tains of gold,” will be destroyed.  When the gov­er­nor refus­es her per­mis­sion to move them, she secret­ly car­ries books home every night to keep them safe.

War does come, and Alia enlists her friend Anis who owns a restau­rant next to the library to help her save the books. Alia, Anis, his broth­ers, and oth­er shop­keep­ers and neigh­bors work all night to pass the books over the wall and hide them in Anis’s restau­rant. Nine days lat­er the library burns to the ground. When “the beast of war” final­ly moves on, Alia hires a truck to bring all thir­ty thou­sand books to fill up her house and friends’ hous­es.  Then she waits for the war to end, for peace to come, for a new library to be built.  “But until then, the books are safe — safe with the librar­i­an of Bas­ra.” We can be grate­ful for Ali­a’s courage and deter­mi­na­tion, and the courage of all librar­i­ans who pro­tect their pre­cious trea­sures for now and for the future. 

That Book Woman Heather Henson David Small

What to do in the hills of Appalachia where there is no library? Load the books into a bag, jump on a horse and go to read­ers. There’s courage in that, too. That Book Woman (Atheneum, 2008) by Heather Hen­son and illus­trat­ed by the fab­u­lous David Small is a fic­tion­al­ized telling of the pack horse librar­i­ans of the Appalachi­ans. Cal, the young nar­ra­tor, says “I am no schol­ar boy,” and cares noth­ing for read­ing. But his sis­ter Lark thinks the book woman is bring­ing trea­sures. She comes every two weeks no mat­ter the weath­er, except for deep win­ter. In the long cold days Cal gets curi­ous about books and asks Lark to teach him to read. When the Book Woman comes again Cal can read to her.

David Small’s glo­ri­ous sky on the last spread, a sky that opens before two read­ers sit­ting on a porch, makes a beau­ti­ful state­ment about the gifts of books and of reading.

Libraries as homes, as shel­ter, as places of refuge, places to learn, and places to delight.  Where would we be with­out libraries?  Let’s hope we nev­er have to find out.

A few oth­er library books:

Dream­ers by Yuyi Morales

A Library by Nik­ki Giovanni

The Lost Library by Jess McGeachin

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