Friday, February 25, 2011

Library Confession: Of Dora and Dead Squirrels

I have a confession: 95% (or more) of the books we borrow from the library come to us because I put them on hold.  We do very little browsing.  I feel horribly guilty about this.  But it seems that nearly every time we're at the library we have ten other errands to run and places to be and can't linger.  Not to mention that my daughters like to pick books based on important criteria like spine color.  I keep justifying the practice by telling myself that when the 5-year-old is "really" reading I'll let her browse and choose her own books more.  For now, while I am still reading to them, I figure I should get a say.

Nonetheless, this week the guilt got the better of me and I promised my girls they could pick out their own books.  When I saw what they had chosen, it only confirmed my preference for the reserve system.  The 5-year-old (who chooses her own books twice a week from her classroom and school libraries, respectively) selected a book about death (involving a squirrel who goes to "Squirrel Paradise") and a book about becoming an older sibling (irrelevant, and an especially boring version of the genre at that).  The 3-year-old picked a Dora book (kill me now!) and one about a family whom a goblin comforts after an unexplained tragedy (which appears to be the death of a child and luckily went over my kids' heads). 

I think it is important for children to choose their own books.  It gives them  a sense of control, an opportunity to explore their interests, a feeling that reading is for their own enjoyment, not an assignment, and, when they get older and read to themselves, a sense of privacy, a way to create their own worlds.  I don't want to deprive my girls of the special pleasure of coming across a truly wonderful book serendipitously on a library or bookstore shelf.  I don't believe in limiting what they read.  Then again, when I see that dead squirrel book sitting on my shelf, I think such principles may be overrated.

What is your library M.O.?


  1. When I read to my kids, we had a my book/your book arrangement. And I picked out so many more books that the selections were overwhelmingly biased towards me anyway. And I admit that most of the duds came from me.

    So don't give up on them -- a few stinkers won't spoil the week, and it's fun to get books to complain about sometimes.

  2. I'd say about 80% of the books we get are through reservations. That's partly because the library nearest to us is small and has a limited stock so I've found it better to reserve things I've read reviews of and think we'll enjoy together. But the other 20% comes from browsing on the day, both by me and the girls. M's latest choice was a book about betwetting (fortunately something she's never done, nor her sister, but clearly something that she found very intriguing). Have replied to your comment on my blog too :-)

  3. Some guy who sometimes goes to a library with his kidsMarch 1, 2011 at 9:21 PM

    I think that allowing my kids to periodically pick out books in a library is a good experience for them, showing them how a library might be used. However, since the books they pick out are most often awful (for me) and sometimes disturbing (like the dead squirrel thing), most of their books are picked out by their mother.

  4. I let my reader pick out his books but as he rarely looks at the bookshelf with the picture books, I always request books. I really work hard to steer him away from the Berenstain Bears though. The Bears are my arch nemeses and I refuse to read them. I also find that I can browse with one or the other of my children, but not both. Since my youngest is 2, that is just way too high maintenance. I do let him look but then I also end up with the "Grover potty book", which I had to read 1000 times before I secretly returned it. And forget being able to browse in the adult section with them in tow!

  5. Hee, we can agree to differ on The Goblin and the Empty Chair!

    I'm with you, I use reserves most of the time. At the school library and in their classroom libraries, they can read whatever they want. When they come with me to the library to pick up our holds, or if we're just there on a Saturday to escape the weather, I let them choose their own books. Which almost invariably make me shudder.

    It was hard for me to keep my mouth shut when Josie wanted to borrow the entire Katie Kazoo oeuvre. Man, are those vile.

  6. The majority of our books come from my online holds as well. On library day, my girls get to pick 5 books each. I rarely comment on what they choose, because I don't want book choosing to be a source of angst. And I limit the number, because, like the rest of you, I found they gravitate to the loudly colored books which also happen to be the most obnoxious. My pet peeves: Berenstein Bears, Arthur books, Curious George books, really any book containing PBS characters. When they ask me to read their books, I say "Let's read THIS one (indicating one of the ones I chose) right now." And they're just happy to be read to, they don't care that their books never seem to get read aloud. And then they get enamored with the stories they've been read aloud from, that the other ones get largely forgotten. It's worked well for me for 4 years now, so cross my fingers it will continue. The one or two times they've insisted I read their book, I always preface it with, "I'm only going to read this ONE time, okay?" They never fight me on it, seeming to accept it as a given.
    They're getting better now (my older two who are 7 and 6) about finding books by authors we've read and liked.
    I feel zero guilt with my approach, because I look at it as my job to lead them toward good books and away from the junk. (And there's a lot of junk out there!)

  7. I tend to go about 50/50 with reserved books vs. books the kids pick out, but on tough days it is more like 80/20. I will let them take the Dora books, Berenstain Bears (blech), etc., but I limit it to one of those for each girl. My kids also seem to love to pull out books that we've already had. It's sweet because they're always so excited to see a familiar and well-loved book on the shelf, but of course I want them to try out new titles each time too. At 5, my older daughter is getting better about taking her time and picking out her own books, but she still has to be in the right mood for it. I agree that it's my job to introduce them to good books or books that might be relevant to whatever is happening in their lives, so I'm fine with our method, especially since whatever comes home with us, I have to read out loud!