Just before we moved into self-isolation, I hit a new stride with book-writing. I was managing 2500+ words per day, and not all of them were crap, so that was a major win. I’d spend the morning writing at home, and then, when my family members interrupted me for the billionth time, I’d bail. I’d head downtown in our little village with its old brick buildings and coffee shops and bakeries and ice cream counters, I’d grab a snack or a caffeine boost, and then I’d go to the library, heavy bag in hand, laden with computer and research materials and post-it notes and multi-colored pens because everyone knows Only Good Things Happen when multi-colored pens are involved.
I’d walk upstairs to the Quiet Zone in the library — the Please Do Not Talk to Me section, as I like to call it — and I’d stake my claim at one of the two large wooden tables under the windows facing Hancock Street. I’d write until closing time, around 8pm, then drive home feeling like I’d done the Work of Showing Up, Facing the Blank Page, and Filling It Without Judgement, knowing most of the job of writing is just that. Show Up. Write the Shitty First Draft.
I don’t know about where you’re from, but in our small Oregon town, the library is a sanctuary. A safe place. A refuge. And it’s fiercely protected by its Librarians, a cadre of humans who fight for equality and equity, and whose mission it is to expose us all to Story because they know Stories are what help us access our Hearts and Imagination and Compassion so that we might See Each Other more fully. Our Librarians aren’t the Shushers and the Tsk-Tskers and the Harsh Rule Monitors of stereotype. Our Librarians are passionate adventurers and match-makers, finding books that lure their readers to New Worlds and Open Spaces, and I’m grateful several of them are my dear friends.
All of which I was thinking about, Diary, because one of those dear friends, Korie, celebrated twenty years at our library this week. There are people who come into your life sometimes who disrupt it and remake it and change you inexorably. They’re the storm, announcing their presence with thunder and lightning. And then there are people who come into your life quietly and gently but with conviction and strength and subtly change the pathways you tread. They’re the rivers, slowly cutting through the earth to shape channels that flow more easily. Korie’s a river for me. She’s changed the way I read, exposing me to authors with minority perspectives — female authors of color and authors who are LGBTQ who write escapist fiction, my genre of choice — who have, in turn, changed the way I think. She’s released me from my former belief that every book, once begun, must be read to the end — now I sample and taste books and commit just to those that draw me in, and I allow myself grace to lay down what’s not working for me in any given time — a lesson that’s transcended to other areas in my life in need of the grace of letting go. And she’s changed the way I expose my children to books and story — with more freedom for them, too, to pick and choose, and try and quit, to read with their eyes or their ears, and to learn for themselves what stories they love (which is a reflection of them) rather than what I want them to love (which is a reflection of me and isn’t the point of handing my child a book.)
So, Diary, I thought I’d just put down here in writing what Korie shared she’s learned in her twenty years at our magical library. Because they’re not just library lessons, but life lessons worth recording:
Todayis my twentieth anniversary at the library. I started as an unpaid college intern helping with storytime because I love Children’s Literature. Twenty years later I still love Children’s Literature, but it didn’t take me very long into my career to realize the truth of this job — it’s about the people, it’s about connection.
Here are my take-aways from twenty years as a Children’s Librarian (in no particular order):
1. I don’t know if you have library fines when you come in the library and I’m certainly not judging you for it. I couldn’t care less and I probably have more fines than you. I don’t think libraries should have fines, and doing away with them is on my to-do list. So there.
2. You don’t have to finish the book. Seriously. There are too many good books in this world to waste your time reading something you don’t enjoy. I give a book 50 pages. If I’m not into, I’m done. I learned this from librarian Nancy Pearl. She also thinks that after age 50 you should subtract a page for every year. Life is too short and getting shorter.
3. If you want to read the classics fine, but I can find you books you’ll enjoy more. I’m over books by dead white men; there are more interesting people to read.
4. Also, don’t be a book snob. Read what you want to read and stop judging what other other people read, it’s annoying. Okay, to be fair we all do this. I’m judging you if you only read dead white men (also, Terry Pratchett doesn’t count as a “dead white man” because he gave us Tiffany Aching). I’m also judging you if you say Moby Dick or Ulysses are your favorite books. I do not believe you, and I’m judging you to be a boring person. Hmmm, this is sounding pretty judgmental.
5. Please don’t make your child read a book because it was your favorite book as a child. Most of the time you will both be disappointed. Just leave it laying around the house. Slip it on their book shelf. Put it in the middle of their floor (I think this works really well). Talk about it, sure, but don’t MAKE them read it.
6. Graphic novels are, in fact, “real books.” A graphic novel (New Kid, by Jerry Craft) won the most prestigious award for American Literature for Children in 2020. Does that help convince you? Back. Off. Jeez.
7. Audiobooks are awesome, and they do too count as having “read” a book. Some people remember better having listened to a book. Also, audiobooks can be AMAZING reading experiences. (Obviously if your child is learning to read and needs to practice I get that. But I bet they would also enjoy listening to a book on audio to relax).
8. No one is too old to be read aloud to.
9. If you get a book assignment and it says “read a Newbery or Caldecott book” ask for that list to be expanded to include Coretta Scott King Award books, Pura Belpré Award books, American Indian Children’s Literature books, Asian/ Pacific American Award for Literature books, Stonewall Award books… There are so many excellent choices out there, can we please stop limiting our choices?
10. You get to decide what your child reads. You do not get to decide what other children read.
11. If you are selecting books for yourself or child may I suggest Grace Lin’s “windows and mirrors” approach? We all need books to help us feel seen and books to show us people who are different from ourselves.
12. So many “classic” children’s book are racist. Yes, we still have them in the library, but we have better books too. Just because you read it as a child doesn’t mean there isn’t something WAY better out there now. I’m looking at you Indian in the Cupboard, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, Little House on the Prairie…
13. If you want your child to “be a reader” it’s a good idea to model reading. Your kids want to be like you. At least when they are younger anyway. Talk about what you are reading. Ask your kids what they are reading. Ask them to tell you about their favorite part of the book, or favorite character. Ask them to pick out a book for you to read that they loved.
14. Read to your baby, your toddler, your teen and all the ages in between. You are your child’s first teacher. When you read to your pre-reader you are building the foundation for reading and writing when the time is right.
15. For goodness sake please don’t try teaching your toddler to read. Yes your baby is brilliant (truly, babies are amazing) but put your ego away please. Does your child know their shapes? Teach them shapes, it’s the foundation for learning letters. They will read when the time is right.
16. Reading time is a great reset tool. For toddlers, kids, and grown-ups. It’s also a great time to snuggle.
17. You don’t have to finish the book. Not as a grown up and certainly not if your child isn’t interested.
18. Reading should be fun and never used as a punishment.
19. You should never ground your child from reading. When they grow up to be librarians they will frequently tell the story as a “can you believe how I suffered” woe-is-me story and you will be the villain (love you anyway dad).
20. I started out as a struggling reader who was in “special” reading classes throughout grade school. Thank goodness for parents, teachers and librarians who encouraged me and helped me find books I wanted to read. Especially Mrs Howard who realized I needed reading glasses, my mom who forced me to do my eye exercises, and Marilyn Jackson, who was my reading specialist and gave me Anne of Green Gables because I was a “kindred spirit.” Anyone can learn to love reading with the right story.
For the love of a good book,
P.S. In case you didn’t believe Korie when she said she probably has more library fines than you (I definitely did NOT believe her the first time she told me this), she probably has more library fines than you.
“I paid our library fines today: $54.42. This was a year’s worth of overdue items. Considering we often have about 50 books checked out at a time (English/Spanish), I feel good about this. There. Feel better now?”
Every now and then, Korie shares her library fine total. The last one was her standing on the library steps with the receipt cascading down the stairs. 😂 I have never since felt ashamed or like I was being judged when I have to go pay our fines. Also, the last time our puppy ate a book (which was not very long ago), I texted Korie a photo of the book we were going to have to replace for the library, and then she texted me back a photo of the book HER puppy had eaten that very night. WE NEED MORE PEOPLE LIKE KORIE IN OUR LIVES SO WE KNOW WE’RE NOT ALONE. Lord love a duck.