Monday, May 6, 2013

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover

I was volunteering in my daughter's school library the other day and some other volunteers were (once again) weeding the fiction section and I joined in.  They were being merciless and, for the most part, rightfully so.  Anything that hadn't been circulating, that we hadn't heard of, that we thought was too hard, or that had a dated cover was going to be made available to the teachers for their classroom libraries and the rejects would be donated or recycled.  We wanted to make room both for new books and for shelf space to display what we have facing outward, to entice students.

Some of Johanna Hurwitz' books about Cricket Kaufman
I largely agreed with their decisions and their criteria.  Except for one: the dated covers.  On the one hand, great covers do draw readers in, particularly reluctant readers.  On the other hand, following this rule almost led to the disposal of Molly's Pilgrim (which I just wrote about here), Johanna Hurwitz's books about Cricket Kaufman and her classmates, and and the Anastasia books by Lois Lowry.  So I testified on their behalf and they were given amnesty and restored to the shelves!  Some of these books are out of print, so if we didn't keep them, there's no way to get new copies.

Johanna Hurwitz's books about the Sossi Family
While these books might not appeal to reluctant readers, what about enthusiastic readers?  My daughter loves Molly's Pilgrim and anything by Johanna Hurwitz, and when the time comes, I suspect she'll love Anastasia books too.  She knows to look for a book not just by title but by author and she has specific favorite authors.  When reading aloud to my girls I always name the author (and illustrator, if applicable).  In fact, they each went through a phase in which they would pretend to read and make up titles by authors they were familiar with, e.g. The Nice Flower by Kevin Henkes, or Popcorn by Beverly Cleary.  Sadly, very few students at the school library ask for a specific author.  Instead, they know the names of certain series, like the Wimpy Kid books, but most of them couldn't tell you who wrote them.

Would you have kept the books I put back on the shelves or not?


  1. I was helping weed at my local school library a few weeks ago. Each book I picked up, I could find a strong reason to keep it. At the end of an hour, my pile of rejects was puny indeed.

    I guess we just need bigger libraries!

  2. Haven't heard of Molly's Pilgrim, sounds promising! I'd be the parent saving the books too!

  3. I love that you are so involved in your kiddos school library! Were the other parent volunteers big kid lit junkies too, or did they give you a crazy look when you started defending books? I can just imagine what my friends would do!

  4. Thanks, Whitney. Unfortunately there is no school librarian so the library is all parent-run (this is a NYC public school). I seem to know the most about middle-grade fiction and picture books but some of the other parents know more about graphic novels, non-fiction, etc.