Libraries for All

June 19, 2012 § 2 Comments

With the local library only one block from our house—well, let’s just say that when we moved here, the librarians were the first people to learn my children’s names. It’s on these late-afternoon visits to the library that my kids get to experience that rush of adrenaline that comes from being endowed (however briefly) with the freedom of unlimited choice. My son JP wanders the aisles of the children’s department; takes down any books that look interesting; makes a big pile at one of the child-sized tables; pages through each of them in a (somewhat futile) effort to narrow down his selections; allows Mommy the power of veto (which I try to use sparingly); and then drags his bountiful stack over to the circulation desk. At this point, no longer able to contain his excitement a second longer, he will announce triumphantly to any bystanders, “Looks like it’s Book Day for us!” (All this while my toddler daughter ducks in and out of aisles trying to engage anyone in a game of peekaboo—she has her own Library Experience.)

With all those shelves of possibility, all those enticements to imagination, it’s no wonder that anyone walking through the library’s door will instantly fall under its spell. But what if that someone isn’t a child at all—but a lion? Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes explore just this question in Library Lion (Ages 3-7), where a lion wanders into (what appears to be) The New York Public Library, sits down for story time, and is instantly spellbound. In fact, he is so hooked, that when story time ends, he unleashes a loud and despairing “RAAAHHRRRR!” This disruption quickly earns the lion an ultimatum, issued by the kindly but rule-enforcing Miss Merriweather: he can stay so long as he keeps his roars to himself. The obedient lion becomes a regular at the library, giving children a boost to reach high shelves and helping Merriweather lick envelopes for overdue notices (apparently libraries hadn’t discovered the Internet in 2006, when this book was first published).

The only one unwilling to accept the newcomer is the uptight, bowtie-sporting Mr. McBee. Like your typical “villain,” McBee patiently waits for the opportunity to banish the lion from the library once and for all. His chance comes when Miss Merriweather, restocking one day with the help of the lion, tumbles off a step stool and breaks her arm. Unable to move, she sends the lion to get help from Mr. McBee; and the lion, unsuccessful in his first attempts to convince McBee to follow him, resorts to the one way he knows will draw attention: he roars. Mr. Tattletale goes sprinting down the hallway, gleefully shouting “Miss Merriweather! The lion broke the rules! The lion broke the rules!”; and the lion, head hung, walks slowly out the front door and never comes back.

As the days drag on and it’s evident that the library has lost much of its charm with the lion’s departure, Mr. McBee finally throws down his villain card and hunts down the lion to make amends. “I thought you might like to know…that there’s a new rule at the library. No roaring allowed—unless you have a very good reason—say, if you’re trying to help a fiend who’s been hurt.” No one, not man nor beast, should be denied his afternoon at the place where dreams get seeded.

Other Favorites About Libraries and Their Magic:
Bats at the Library, by Brian Lies (Ages 3-6)
Wild About Books, by Judy Sierra & Marc Brown (Ages 4-8)
The Library, by Sarah Stewart & David Small (Ages 4-8)
Miss Dorothy And Her Bookmobile, by Gloria Houston & Susan Condie Lamb (Ages 4-8)
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq, by Jeanette Winter (Ages 7-12)

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