When it comes to libraries, Bookish is very much in Arthur Read’s camp. To quote the classic song: “Having fun isn’t hard when you’ve got a library card.” Author Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is also a big believer in libraries, and her book The Story Collector tells the story of a young girl named Viviani Fedeler who has lived her life inside the New York Public Library. Here, Tubb shares ten of her favorite books that are set in libraries. Get ready to be inspired to visit your local library.
I recently asked my online friends to share stories about their favorite libraries. Over and over again, I heard about great programs, great books, community, and cozy spaces. Most of all, I heard about great people. To honor all of those hard-working librarians who are out there loving language, creating community, and, you know, upholding the First Amendment like the word warriors they truly are, I present (in no particular order) ten amazing books that take place (to some degree) in a library.
“This book was the best one I read all summer.” That review is straight from the mouth of my very particular 11-year-old son, so thank you, Mr. Grabenstein, for grabbing my guy’s attention. And who wouldn’t love this tale? A library lock-in, complete with interactive holographic statues, a plethora of puzzles, even farting geese. The dozens of classic middle grade book titles Mr. Grabenstein tosses into the text are a fun bonus.
Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra
It is so hard to be patient when books are involved! Ana must wait, however, for the biblioburro to return: two burros named Alfa and Beto who carry books to Ana’s village. Trying to be patient, Ana crafts a story of her own. This is lovely portrait of the real-life Luis Soriano Bohórquez, whose work for literacy near La Gloria, Colombia, is beautifully reflected in Parra’s vibrant folk art illustrations.
That Book Woman by Heather Henson, illustrated by David Small
I obviously have a special place in my heart for bookmobiles and traveling libraries/librarians, because this is another tale of bringing books to places where they are needed most. Cal lives in the rolling Appalachian mountains of Kentucky, and honestly, he has little need for those “chicken scratches” on paper. But the bravery and tenacity of the librarian on horseback catches his eye. She’s out there in all kinds of weather: extreme heat, rain, snow, cold, and fog. What she has to share must be special. This portrait of the Pack Horse Librarians is made extra special by David Small’s ability to capture Cal’s every emotion.
Any list that summarizes libraries and doesn’t include the library at Hogwarts? Incomplete. This series largely takes place outside the walls of the library, but much of the plot of all seven books hinges on the research these characters undertake in their school’s stacks. How does Hermione fight for Buckbeak? Using research from the library. How does Harry complete the tasks for the Triwizard Tournament? Using research from the library. How does the trio dig up information on Nicolas Flamel? Yup. Hermione herself lived the credo, “When in doubt, go to the library.”
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter
This vibrant picture book begins with a quote from Alia Muhammad Baker, the subject of this story: “In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.’” Baker was the librarian of a collection in Basra, Iraq, when “the beast of war” approached her city. She was wise, and foresaw that her treasures were at risk: What would happen if her beloved books were destroyed? What would become of the literary community she’d created? With the help of friends, Alia found a way to save most of the collection, thereby saving the treasured voices of her community. This book is a thoughtful way to introduce the power of the written word—and its loss—to young readers.
If I could eat any story word by word, it would be this one. (And those of you who’ve read this book understand that Death, its narrator, would likely agree with me on that one.) Ilsa Hermann is the mayor’s wife in Molching, the small German town where the book thief, Liesel Meminger, lives. Ilsa’s home library is their refuge in their hate-filled country; its truth and knowledge is, in effect, their way to counter Hitler’s ugly lies. Ilsa not only knows that Liesel is stealing books, she leaves the window open for her to do so (and sometimes leaves a plate of food lying around as suggested extra contraband, too). Ilsa’s wealth and privilege play starkly against Liesel’s loss and need, but the library is the one place that levels their circumstances. Anyone who believes wholeheartedly that a book can save a life should spend a little time in this unmatched story.
This book is far from pure fluff (pun intended). When a ginger kitten is shoved into the after-hours book return slot, Myron and the other staff members at the Spencer Public Library in Iowa decide to keep him. I’m a sucker for a great pet book, and this is exactly that. Dewey Readmore Books not only creates a special link between the hometown patrons, but guides the narrator (Myron) through some difficult life choices. There are several spin-off children’s books for this title as well.
I’ve spent hours—hours—howling and crying down the rabbit hole that is this author’s Tumblr, iworkatapubliclibrary. And here’s the thing: I’ve never worked in a library. But those of us who love libraries and know that part of their charm is that they welcome and serve everyone adore this book for what it is: a wacky, quirky, gritty, heartwarming look at library as the heart of a community. A personal favorite patron query: “Can you open this tin of oysters?”
The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara
The cadence of this text and the elegant, two-toned wood-carved illustrations are reminiscent of another children’s classic, Millions of Cats. In this translated story, a little librarian works with three owls in a library that opens only at night. This is a love letter to the many tasks a librarian undertakes on a daily basis, striving to fulfill her patrons’ needs. The little librarian serves squirrels, wolves, tortoises, and animals of all kinds. This story takes a charming look at what it means to build a community with books.
Lost In a Library by Josh Funk, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Rounding out this list is the beautiful Lost in a Library. One morning, NYPL’s Fortitude wakes to find Patience missing. (Hello, does this sound like every household in the mornings, or just mine?) Fortitude tiptoes through the library labyrinth to find Patience, before the City That Never Sleeps awakens and misses one of its favorite felines. Where Fortitude ultimately finds Patience will charm book-lovers young and old. (And it’s not lost on readers that it’s where many a family, mine included, has also found abundant patience.)
Kristin O’Donnell Tubb is the author of The Story Collector: A New York Public Library Book, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, a middle grade mystery adventure inspired by the real life of Viviani Joffre Fedeler, who was born and raised in the New York Public Library. Tubb is also the author of A Dog Like Daisy, John Lincoln Clem: Civil War Drummer Boy, The 13th Sign, and Selling Hope.