Books about Us for Kids

By Stevens, Norman D. | American Libraries, October 1996 | Go to article overview

Books about Us for Kids


Stevens, Norman D., American Libraries


Among the most entertaining collections at the Molesworth Institute is one that encompasses 34 children's books, both fiction and nonfiction, that deal in one way or another with libraries and librarians. The bright spot about almost all of these books is that they present libraries and librarians in a highly favorable light. Readers will find very few ogres, shushers, witches, or old ladies with pencils stuck in their hair buns in these books--although there are still too many eyeglasses.

The only truly unfortunate characterization I've come across is the unnamed librarian in Eleanor Estes's Rufus M. (Harcourt Brace,1943) who does her best to intimidate Rufus by "Sh-sh-sh"ing him, making him write his name to get a library card, and sending him home to wash his hands. Fortunately he persists, she relents, and in the end Rufus becomes a library user.

Of all the librarians in these books, my favorite is Alice Rumphius in Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius (Viking Penguin, 1982) who, apart from looking elegant, not only helps people, including children, to use the library but also beautifies her community by spreading lupine seeds everywhere to "make the world more beautiful."

Some of these books, like Nancy Smiler Levinson's Clara and the Bookwagon (Harper & Row, 1988) and Jack Knowlton's Books and Libraries (HarperCollins, 1991) with illustrations by Harriett Barton, deal with library history in a reasonably accurate way while promoting good library habits.

As an ardent member of the Library Cat Society, I find only a single title featuring one of our feline friends truly offensive and that's Ann Sanders's The Library Mice (Ariel Books, 1962), which retells the old story of the mice belling the cat in a library setting. There, it is the poor old library cat who plays the stereotyped nasty ogre as he tries to catch and eat the mice while they feast in the library.

Although the various fictional accounts of the fascinating world of libraries as presented to the eyes of babes are delightful entertainment, the nine nonfiction books in this collection offer a fascinating view of the sometimes darker side of librarianship.

More than anyone wanted to know

The earliest of those books, which is actually on loan from another librarian, is Carolyn Mott and Leo B. Baisden's The Children's Book on How to Use Books and Libraries (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937). The colorful stick drawings that profusely illustrate the text are the book's best feature. Its 54 brief chapters cover virtually every aspect of using books and libraries from classification to atlases, in what now seems to be a rather pedantic fashion. That's unfortunately also typical of books like Library Workers (Harper & Brothers, 1940), edited by Alice V. Keliher, and Edith Busby's Behind the Scenes at the Library (Dodd, Mead, 1960), which attempt to present a broader view of just what it is libraries are for--and even of Pekay Shor's treatment of how to use books and libraries in Libraries and You (Prentice-Hall, 1964). …

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