Wednesday, January 12, 2011

To Get All Meta on You: Books about Books, Libraries and Reading

Because of my aforementioned library addiction, I hold books that mention libraries and books, and those that feature readers, especially dear.  One of my favorites is the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor.  This series follows the lives of five sisters growing up on the Jewish Lower East Side (where I grew up!) at the turn of the last century.  All but the first book are out of print, but many used copies can be found online.  There are five books in the series.

One week Sarah, the responsible, studious middle child, loses her book.  She is terrified to tell the librarian and devastated to hear of the cost to replace it.  Don't worry - it all works out in the end.  Not only that, but both the librarian and Ella, the oldest daughter, find love in or through the library.  Ella's beau (a much better word than boyfriend, don't you think?) actually introduces himself by sending her a note in a book she had hidden in the stacks.  What could be more romantic?

But the best book-within-a-book reference in this series comes in the third book (confusingly called More All-of-a-Kind Family, while the second is All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown), when Henny finds Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery the then-just-published sequel to Anne of Green Gables at the library one day. This reference sent me running to Wikipedia,
Somehow I'd always thought that the Anne books had been written in the 1920s at least, which would have post-dated Henny's discovery.  But no, the first was published in 1908, with Anne of Avonlea coming out just a year later.  So that means some of my favorite fictional characters were enjoying another one of my favorite fictional characters - how cool is that!

Although this blog is geared more toward younger audiences (at least for now, while my own children are young), I can't write a post about books about books, reading and libraries without mentioning one for older readers, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

My fruitless search for an image of the edition I have (how attached we can get to the edition and cover art of a book! - only the link to All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown shows the cover art I remember from that series) did lead me to another nice discovery: that Anna Quindlen, one of my favorite essayists and novelists who has written her own book-length essay on the joys of reading, has written a foreword to this book  Being me, I promptly put a library hold on this edition.

There are many lovely moments in the book describing Francie, the protagonist, taking joy in books and words and in the library itself, but the description of how Francie learns to read is simply perfect: 

"Oh, magic hour when a child first knows it can read printed words!

For quite a while, Francie had been spelling out letters, sounding them and then putting the sounds together to mean a word.  But one day, she look at a page and the word mouse had instantaneous meaning.  She looked at the word and the picture of a gray mouse scampered through her mind.  She looked farther and when she saw "horse," she heard him pawing the ground and saw the sun glint on his glossy coat.  The word "running" hit her suddenly and she breathed hard as though running herself....

From that time on, the world was hers for the reading.  She would never be lonely again..."

And there you go.


  1. Sydney Taylor is new to me, but I shall be on the look out now - thanks!

  2. You mention some of my favorite books in this post. Funny, I though Anne of Green Gables was written in the 1930s so I was really off. I still have the editions I read in the 4th grade. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, well, I am a Brooklyn girl so I loved it and Francie's feelings about reading so echoed my own.
    All of a Kind Family was also a favorite. I remember going to the Lower East Side as a kid to by kosher chicken - not cause we were kosher, but my mom liked fresh better than supermarket.
    Oh the memories you have evoked with this post!

  3. Hmm - why are all these books so familiar and dear to me? (Could it be because we shared a childhood (and a very small apartment)?) But I did not remember the reference to Anne in the All of a Kind Family books - I bet because we read the All of a Kind Family series well before we started with Anne of Green Gables -- I remember Mom reading us All of a Kind Family when we were very very small. In All of a Kind Family there is one part where they buy hot chickpeas with salt and pepper from a peddler on the street and I thought that sounded so delicious, only to be disappointed by actual chickpeas when I finally tasted them.
    PS I have always been a library addict too but the library system in my current town is pathetic and it is very disheartening.

  4. I'm an avid reader of middle grade and YA books, and I've noticed that lots of these books feature characters who love books and reading. It's really interesting to think about. Thanks for introducing a few more--I've seen All-of-a-Kind Family and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn around, but now I really want to read them. I already really love Anne of Green Gables--and she's another character who loves to read!

  5. I loved the All-of-A-Kind Family books! I'm inspired now to go re-read them. What fun books.

  6. @ Melanie: So interesting! I guess it makes sense that writers feature book-lovers in their books. Do you have any recommendations for YA and middle grade books? My kids are young so I haven't read any of that genre since I was in the target audience, but I'd love to read some now, even before my kids get there. And you MUST read All-of-a-Kind Family and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and, when you do, let me know what you think!

  7. Have you read Laurel Snyder's Penny Dreadful yet? A girl, after years of reading, gets to discover real life. My daughters have so far been thrilled with all the references to their own favorites, like the Penderwicks, and Pippi Longstocking.

  8. @Kaethe: Thanks for the recommendation. It sounds great!