Building a Library

Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales

Strangely enough, this is NOT a great gift idea for a baby.

One of the most daunting tasks I’ve found in building a home library is figuring out some sort of comprehensive way to introduce fairy tales and folk tales to your child. Because I’m a completist. If I start a series of novels, I have to read ALL OF THEM, even if I start hating the series after volume three.  The same goes for TV shows, movie series, and comic books. And, if I do eventually abandon whatever series I’m reading or watching, I spend lazy afternoons on the internet keeping up with spoilers, so I know what’s going on, even if… you know, I now profess to hate it. (So many hours I’ve spent on Wikipedia reading Uncanny X-Men spoilers and I haven’t bought an issue since the 1990s.) It’s just how I’m wired.

So, as a completist, when I started buying books for my daughter before she was born, I was very cognizant of the fact that it was up to me, as her father, to introduce her to the world of folklore and I didn’t want to leave any gaps in her education. One of the THE first books I ever bought her was a copy of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, illustrated by Josef Scharl, which was NUTS – literally nuts. That was an insane purchase for an unborn child. Because, while the volume is complete, it is also dense, dark, and academic, with teeny tiny text and annotations galore. It makes for a beautiful reference book, but, c’mon, a kid isn’t going to touch that book until they’re either a). an adult or b). a very, very lonely teenager.

Realizing my folly, I started searching for more accessible versions of classic folk and fairy tales to share with her. I had a checklist – do I have a Red Riding Hood for her? Check. Three Little Pigs? Check. Goldilocks? Check. And I thought I’d assembled a few very decent introductions to the world of folklore for our library. I was pleased.

Red Riding Hood

On the other hand, kids will love this one.

However, after she was born and we started reading books aloud more often, I realized that there were SO many holes in our collection. This became particularly apparent when reading the more modern fractured fairy tales – fractured fairy tales are the more meta, ironic takes on classic folklore. Many of these books – ranging from The Stinky Cheese Man to Each Peach Pear Plum to The Princess and the Pizza – have a lot of fun alluding to and referencing classic folklore, which is normally, in turn, great fun for the parents and kids reading at home. I’m a big, big child of the pop culture generation, so recognizing references is something deeply, deeply ingrained in my DNA. [read the rest of the post…]

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Sesame Street Book Club: A My Name Is Annabel

Sesame Street Book Club: A My Name Is Annabel

I’ve made a lot of mistakes while trying to build a library for my daughter. I bought a lot of “classics” that I’d never read before, only to discover that neither my daughter nor I particularly enjoyed them. I purchased a big stack of 300-page Disney storybook collections from an outdoor Borders’ bargain table, thinking I was getting a deal, only to discover that being forced to read a barely literate retelling of Beauty and the Beast20 times in a row to a mildly-addicted 3-year-old just isn’t worth a 70% markdown. And I spent way too much time picking out titles that I personally found cheeky and clever rather than, you know, trying to figure out what a kid might actually like to read. I’ll totally admit it – mistakes were made. And I continue to make mistakes on an almost weekly basis.

But, every now and again, I lucked into making one or two tremendously awesome decisions – decisions for which I still occasionally pat myself on the back. At the top of that list is my decision to buy a whole lot of 1980s Sesame Street Book Club books on eBay.

Parents – you need to buy some of these titles for your kids. They’re perfect for children ages 2-5 (they make nice early readers for older readers too), they’re fun and engaging, they’re (for the most part) extremely well written, and, here’s the best part, they’re usually cheap. Honestly, you can normally find whole lots of Sesame Street Book Club titles on eBay at a cost of $1 to $2 per title (if not less). Any home library worth its salt is going to include some percentage of used books, and these books – both economically and creatively – are the deal of the century.

Sesame Street Book Club

Our house is covered in Sesame Street Book Club titles...

If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s probably because it’s been out-of-print for years. There isn’t a ton of information on the 1980s Sesame Street Book Club online – the best resource is this page on the Muppet Wikia, which does a fantastic job collecting information on the series. The very cool Dad Aesthetic blog also did a nice write-up of the series, summarizing it thusly:

The Sesame Street Book Club was a series of mail-order hard cover books for young readers released in the early 1980s. This collection of 62 books forms an excellent library of bedside reads for toddlers and young elementary students. The books cover a range of basic conceptual themes (The Sesame Street Circus of Opposites), vocabulary (Don’t Forget the Oatmeal!), math (The Count Counts a Party) and social skills (Molly Moves to Sesame Street). However, the observational and life-learning topics sit the best with my toddler. Those include Farley Goes to the Doctor, The Twiddlebugs’ Dream House, When I’m as Big as Freddie and The Case of the Missing Duckie. [read the rest of the post…]

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Sick Day for Amos McGee

For the record, none of my elephant friends came over to play chess when I was sick.

OK, I apologize for the absurd delay in new posts. I ended up being much sicker than I thought I was and just couldn’t post with any regularity. But, after multiple days of antibiotics and, what might be, a permenant case of Ricola breath, I should be  back on a regular posting schedule for the foreseeable future.

Thanks again for your patience.

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Just FYI, dear readers. (And, yes, I technically have enough readers to technically refer to them in the plural now.)

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

When I'm feeling better, I'll tell you how awesome this book is.

Regular posting will resume tomorrow. I apologize for the lame-ass delay in new material this week, but, of course, two weeks into launching the blog, I came down with a nice case of super zombie-pneumonia. So I’m either way, way sick or I had a much uglier psychosomatic reaction to those Contagion trailers than I thought I did.

Anyway, more tomorrow after I let Osmosis Jones beat up whatever plague is currently in my body.

Sorry for the sucking.

Tom

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It’s Friday, so I thought I’d take a break from obsessing over my own collection of books and share with you a few links, videos, and other resources that might help you start building your own library of awesome kids titles.

For starters, keeping with September’s apparent theme of “new works from massively iconic children’s lit authors”, a new Dr. Seuss book was released this week – The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, a collection of short illustrated pieces that Seuss originally created for magazines decades ago. (New Sendak, new Shel Silverstein, new Seuss – this September has been amazing month for kids lit… and alliteration.)  The book was assembled by self-proclaimed “Seuss-o-logist” Charles Cohen and this video explains how the volume came to be

So, obviously, The Bippolo Seed looks like a killer addition for your home library if your kids are big Seuss fans.

In terms of general library building:

  • If you’re concerned about the price of building a home library – books ain’t cheap – this Nesting.com article by Terry Doherty has some decent guidelines for getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to tracking down books for your kids. We’re going to have some similar articles on this topic posted to the blog soon – specifically about my love of finding cheap lots of 1970s Sesame Street Book Club books on eBay.
  • And, finally, even though the link looks NSFW, ANY true book-freak will go MENTAL checking out the images on the Bookshelf Porn Tumblr page, which has created a gallery of some of the most amazing, drool-worthy bookshelves you’ve ever seen. Seriously, book fans, prepare to ache with envy.

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Was that too obvious a note to start on? Dammit. Well, hopefully, I can set the bar low with this first post and move upwards and onwards from there.

So, what is this blog about? First, check out our “About” page (again, too obvious?) to get my answer to the question – WHAT DOES “BUILDING A LIBRARY” MEAN?

Home libraries are fun

One of several branches of our in-home library

But, beyond that, let me give you the highlights. For the past five years, I’ve been obsessively collecting books for my daughter in the attempt to build her a nicely diverse and engaging library of books that she can read right now and books that (hopefully) she will read one day.

My library project has had its ups and downs, and I want to share my results. Why? Because a). I want to give parents, who are looking for new books for their own children, the benefit of our experience and maybe help recommend some really great books, and b). I just enjoy talking about kids’ books.

How is this going to work? Every week, I’ll profile different books in our library. I’ll give you a skeptical parent overview of the book, let you know if I recommend it as a buy or if I suggest that you pilot it via your local library, and I’ll help up some context around the book too – i.e. recommendations for other similar books, discussions of genre, characters, etc.

On the right, you’ll notice a sidebar called “My Dewey System.” This is my attempt to categorize the different books that you’ll be likely to find in a kid’s library. The categories in the sidebar will expand over the next week or so, but, at the moment, our list of categories includes:

Board Books, Picture Books, Easy Readers, Chapter Books, Young Adult Books, Poetry, Nonfiction, Comic Books, and, my favorite, Books My Kid Will Read in the Future.

Dust Cover Pile-Up

Dust covers roam like tumbleweeds in our house…

(Yeah, yeah, I know there are WAY more actual categories of children’s books, but this is what we’re going to start with.)

You’ll also find posts with original articles and general miscellany about kids books, links to other great resources on the web (check out our blog roll and Twitter sidebar for a very cool collection of links), and anything else I deem relevant. I’ve spent a lot of time collecting different resources in my hunt for the perfect books for my kid and now I want to spread the wealth – hopefully, some of you might actually find it valuable. (No worries, if not.)

And, most importantly, if you have a great book that you want to recommend or that you think any children’s library should not be without, PLEASE send me an email and let me know. There is a very, very selfish side to this project, in that I really want the dialogue to go both ways so I can reap some really excellent new book suggestions for my daughter.

Regardless, thanks for checking out the site and I hope you enjoy the ramblings of a self-obsessed, unlicensed, amateur children’s librarian. (Enjoy, tolerate… I’ll take what I can get.)

Tom

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