National Library Week, School Library Media Month (April), and Children’s Book Week is a great time to celebrate books and reading. Libraries haven’t always been available in the United States, and sometimes even if libraries were available all citizens did not have access to them. But librarians have always made a difference. These books are each a tribute to the power of librarians and literacy, and to words and reading.
America’s Internment of Japanese citizens during World War II kept books from readers because of their race and their geographical isolation. But there was Miss Breed. Joanne Oppenheim wrote about Miss Breed in her book Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference. Miss Breed made sure that the Japanese-American children who were interred in concentration camps were sent books during their incarceration during World War II.
Living in remote areas of Wisconsin kept books from readers in the early 1900s but there was another pioneer librarian—a woman named Lutie Stearns who organized traveling libraries throughout the state. Her story is told in Stuart Stotts’s Books in Boxes: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin. She talked to lumber jacks and state senators—she took trunks of books to communities that did not have a public library. She was a passionate advocate for literacy.
After the great Depression in the 30s jobs were scarce and reading material for those living in the remote regions of the Appalachian Mountains were even scarcer. From those circumstances a WPA project was developed and Kentucky women delivered books by horseback. From 1935-43 Kentucky women took books into the mountains—to families, to schoolrooms filled with children, and to individuals who might have walked miles to meet the librarian with the bag of books. Kate Appelt tells the story in Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky.
When a family moves frequently library privileges are often difficult to maintain. Migrant families are often cut off from library services but in Iowa during his childhood in the 1940s, Tomás Rivera, later to become the chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, was introduced to the world of books and fantasy and wonderful stories. And when his family had to return to Texas the librarian gave him his own book to take with him. Now the library at the University of California Riverside is named after him. The fictionalized account of Tomás Rivera and his “library lady” is told in Pat Mora’s Tomás and the Library Lady.
Other countries have had their challenges too. During the beginning of the Iraq war as soldiers marched toward her city Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian of Basra's Central Library, knew her library’s books were in danger. She found a way to move 30,000 volumes to her and her friends' homes in the hopes that someday her country would know peace and a library would be home once again to the precious books. Her story is told in two books: Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq is told by Mark Alan Stamaty in graphic novel format while Jeanette Winter told the story in a picture book format in The Librarian of Basra.
Pioneer librarians are not just relegated to heroic deeds during times of war or to the past, there are many librarians today who are working tirelessly to bring books to children. In My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World, Margriet Ruurs tells about the unusual manner in which children in thirteen countries get books to read. While the camel is not literally the “librarian” the librarian does use camels to help deliver books, and others use everything from wheelbarrows to elephants in locations that might be only a name to many American readers, Thailand, Mongolia or Azerbaijan.
And there is a librarian whose story has yet to be told in a book for young readers. Gebregeorgis Yohannes, a native of Ethiopia, learned to read in his village school. He remembers clearly the day, as a nineteen-year-old, that he held a book in his hands, a book outside of the school environment. Eventually he became a political refugee and immigrated to the United States where he earned a library science degree. As a librarian in San Francisco working with a large Ethiopian population he became sadly aware that there were no books being published in any of the traditional Ethiopian languages. To counteract the lack of books in his native language Yohannes organized a non-profit foundation and with the help of author Jane Kurtz, an author who grew up in as a child of missionaries in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Books for Children and Education Foundation (EBCEF). Today Yohannes is back in Ethiopia in the first children’s library in Ethiopia—the Shola Children’s library. Thousands of children have visited the library in its first years of operation. The foundation has published Silly Mambo in a native language (and English). Another literacy initiative in Ethiopia has published a translation of Jane Kurtz’s To Pull a Lion’s Tail. EBCEF (Ethiopia Reads) is extending its outreach programs to schools and to towns with horse powered libraries. More information is available online at http://ethiopiareads.org/ . Jane Kurtz, a co-founder of Ethiopia Reads also talks about the beginning in her book for educators, Jane Kurtz and You.
Join an international literacy project—Find out how.
Ethiopia Reads. (2008) Online at http://www.ethiopiareads.org. Click on the “How You Can Help Link” or go directly to http://www.ethiopiareads.org/help.htm.
Librarians do make a difference — and they are making that difference throughout the world. Cheer them on.
Libraries and Librarians — Words and Reading
Kurtz, Jane. Jane Kurtz and You. Illus. with photographs. 2007. 200p. Libraries Unlimited, $35 (1591582954). Jane Kurtz, author of over 20 books for young readers discusses her childhood in Ethiopian and the process of writing with six basic elements of good writing.
Brown, Marc. Locked in the Library. Arthur Chapter Books. 1998. 64p. Little, Brown Young Readers, $12.95 (0316115576); paper, $4.25 (0316115584). When Arthur and Francine lose track of time and end up in the library after the five o’clock closing they have to wait to be rescued—but manage to find the librarians’ lounge filled with snacks while they wait.
Brown, Monica. Waiting for the Biblioburro. Illustrated by John Parra. About the burros who deliver books to readers in Columbia. Tricycle Press.
Cotten, Cynthia. Abbie in Stitches. Illustrated by Beth Peck. 2006. 32p. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16.99 (0374300046). Set in New York in 1820s, Abbie is not interested in creating the sampler necessary in her sewing class. As others create challenging examples Abbie would rather read. She does make a sampler – dated April 20, 1822, and showing a book and the statement, “I would rather read.”
Deedy, Carmen Agra. The Library Dragon. Illustrated by Michael P. White. 1994. 32p. Peachtree Publishers, $16.95 (156145091X). Sunrise’s Elementary School has a new librarian, a “real dragon” who must find out that kids and books do go together.
Ernst, Lisa Campbell. Stella Louella's Runaway Book. 1998. 40p. Simon & Schuster, $16.95 (0689818831); Aladdin, paper, $6.99 (0689818831) A search for a missing book includes clues and hidden jokes all leading right to the library.
Fraser, Mary Ann. I. Q. Goes to the Library. Walker & Company. 2003. $15.95 (0802788777); paper, $6.95 (0802777279). I.Q., a little mouse, has a real thirst for knowledge and can’t wait for his class to visit the library during library week.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Good Books, Good Times. Illustrated by Harvey Stevenson. 1990, 32p. HarperTrophy. paper, $6.99. (0064462226). A collection of 14 poems about books and reading. Fun, engaging, ranging from humorous to serious.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett. Wonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening. Illustrated by Karen Barbour. 2004. 32p. Simon & Schuster, $16.95 (0689835884). An anthology of short poems by celebrated poets extolling the fun of words and language. Vivid images in both words and illustration.
Knudsen, Michelle. Library Lion. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. $16.99. 48p. Candlewick, $15.99 (0763622621). Despite the circulation assistant’s desire to have Lion ejected from the library, Miss Meriweather declares that as long as Lion breaks no rules he is welcome in the library. But he does misbehave and there are consequences—and a satisfying ending.
Lewis, J. Patrick. Please Bury Me in the Library. Illustrated by Kyle M. Stone. 2005. 32p. Gulliver Books, $16 (0152163875). a collection of 16 poems; frothy nonsense about books and libraries.
Mora, Pat. Tomás and the Library Lady. Illus. by Raul Colon. 1997. 32p. Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House, $17 (0679804013); Dragonfly, paper, $6.99 (0375803491). Tomás Rivera began life as a migrant worker and when he died, in 1984, he was an university chancellor. Along the way he learned to love reading, thanks to a librarian in Iowa.
Polacco, Patricia The Bee Tree. Philomel. 1993. 32p. $16.99 (039921965X). Mary Ellen would rather be “outdoors running and playing” but she finds that learning to read and reading are as sweet as the honey she and her grandfather gather.
Polacco, Patricia. Aunt Chip and the Triple Creek Dam Affair. 1996. Philomel. $16.99. (0399229434). When the big TV tower was built in town, everyone quit reading. The library closes and Aunt Chip took to her bed. That was fifty years ago and now the children can’t read, but Aunt Chip is about to take care of that and in the end reading reigns.
Ruurs, Margriet. My Librarian Is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World. 2005. 32p. Boyds Mills Press, $16.95. (1590780930). Describes how children in countries around the world get their books by donkey cart, bicycle, camel, elephant, postal mail, boats, horses, even by wheelbarrow.
Sierra, Judy. Wild About Books. Illus. by Marc Brown. 2004. 32p. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, $16.95 (0-375-82538-X). With a nod to the rhymes of Dr. Seuss and his hometown, the Springfield librarian Molly McGrew visits the zoo – and creates a whole new group of readers who are “wild about books.”
Stewart, Sarah. The Library. Illus. by David Small. 1995. 40p. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16.50 (0374343888); Sunburst, paper, $6.95 (0374443947). Mary Elizabeth Brown reads voraciously and when her house overflows with books she turns her house into a library and keeps on reading.
Terry, Sonya.“L” Is for Library. 2006. 32p. Upstart Books. $16.95. (193214644X). An orange tabby, accompanied by the ducks from Make Way for Ducklings, guides children on an alphabetical tour of the library.
Winter, Jeanette. 2010. Biblioburro: a true story from Colombia. Illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Based on a true story of two burros and books. Beach Lane Books.
Winter, Jeanette. The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq. 2005. 32 p. Harcourt, $16 (0152054456). Alia Muhammad Baker moves 30,000 volumes of books from the library just days before the building burns to the ground during the Iraq war.
Williams, Suzanne. (1997) Library Lil. Illustrated by Steven Kellogg. 1997. 32p. Dial, $16.99 (0803716982); Puffin, paper (0140568379). — Everyone in town seems to want to watch television and nobody is reading books. Library Lil does not like the situation at all and she sets out to do something about it.
Yohannes, Gebregeorgis. Silly Mammo: An Ethiopian Tale. Illustrated by Bogale Belachew. 2002. 32p. African Sun Press/Ethiopian Books for Children and Education Foundation, paper, $12 (188370104X). Bellachew, an Ethiopian artist, sets this tale in modern Ethiopia. Mammo’s behavior is similar to the American “Silly Jack” tale. This edition, in English and Amharic, is available from downhomebooks.com.
Appelt, Kathi. Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky. 2001. 64 p. HarperCollins, $16.99 (0060291354). WPA workers deliver books to children in the 1930s, on horseback.
Clifford, Eth. Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library. Illustrated by George Hughes. 1979. 112p. Houghton Mifflin, $16, (0395284783); paper, $5.99 (0618494820). When Jo-Beth and Mary Rose find themselves in the library after hours they also find a mystery filled with action and surprises.
Polacco, Patricia. Thank You, Mr. Falker. 1998. 40p. Philomel, $16.99 (0399231668). Based on the author’s own triumph over dyslexia and her discovery, with the help of a wonderful teacher, that reading is sweet knowledge.
Schotter, Roni. The Boy Who Loved Words. Illus. by Giselle Potter. 2006. 40p. Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $16.95 (0375836012). Selig collects words. He savors each word and puts them in his pockets, socks, up his sleeves, and under his hat. Selig is a poet and a collector of words. Be sure to find the aubade found in the text.
Stamaty, Mark Alan. Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq. 2004. 32p. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $12.95 (0375832173). Details in graphic format the efforts of the librarian of Basra, Alia Muhammad Baker.
Oppenheim, Joanne. Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference. 2006. 288p. Scholastic Nonfiction, $22.99. (0-439-56992-3). Miss Breed, a San Diego librarians, champions the cause of the Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. She sends care packages and books.
Peck, Richard. Here Lies the Librarian. 2006. 190p. Dial, $16.99 (0803730802). Rural Indiana, in 1914, is the setting for this humorous tale of a library that closes after the librarian dies. But that all changes when Irene Ridpath and her three fellow library students come to town and spark the interest of Jake, the operator of a garage. Puns abound and so does the humor.
Stotts, Stuart. Books in Boxes: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin. 2005. 96p. Big Valley Press, $17.99 (0976537206). Lutie Stearn organizes traveling libraries to remote areas of Wisconsin at the turn of the century.