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Just For Fun

Check ’Em Out:
The Best Libraries in Kids’ Lit

by Sharon Holbrook

Illustration: Nathan Gelgud

Libraries, of course, have a special place in every book-lover’s heart. But libraries don’t just physically hold the stories we crave — sometimes, they are characters in the story. Here are some of the most memorable libraries from children’s literature.

  • Matilda

    by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

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    Matilda Wormwood has two parents who think she’s nothing more than a nuisance. Left alone every day to watch TV in her bookless house, precocious reader Matilda wanders down to the local library in search of books. Mrs. Phelps, a kindly librarian, quietly takes Matilda under her wing and exposes the uncommonly advanced reader to books that show her “new worlds…and amazing people who lived exciting lives.” The library was Matilda’s first safe place in life, and it started her on her rollicking, often-hilarious adventures in Roald Dahl’s classic.

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  • Because of Winn-Dixie

    by Kate DiCamillo

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    Opal, the appealing 10-year-old narrator of this modern masterpiece of children’s literature, is lonely. She’s moved to a new Florida town, lives in a trailer park that has no other kids, and still misses the mama who abandoned her and her father years earlier. Opal becomes a regular at the library that summer, and finds an unlikely first friend in Miss Franny, the elderly librarian. Both the library and Miss Franny become touchpoints that lead Opal to more connections and, finally, a full heart.

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  • Biblioburro

    by Jeanette Winter

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    For Matilda and Opal, the library was a short walk from home. In a remote part of northern Colombia, though, the library doesn’t even exist — that is, until it walks to you on the back of a burro. In this true story, intrepid booklover Luis makes the long and sometimes dangerous journeys to bring the transformative power of books to small villages. Gorgeously illustrated with colorful art by the author.

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  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics

    by Chris Grabenstein

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    Until now, the 12-year-olds in Alexandria, Ohio, have never known a library in their town — the old one was torn down a decade earlier to make way for a parking garage. In this middle-grade novel and its sequel, quirky gamemaker Luigi Lemoncello celebrates his flashy new multimedia library by turning it into another one of his games, with children as the live-action players. Soaked with references to book titles and the Dewey Decimal system, these books are a fun, sugary homage to libraries. Grown-up bibliophiles will appreciate the tension between old-style libraries and modern technology, but kids will just enjoy the fun.

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  • Richard Wright and the Library Card

    by William Miller, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

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    Distance isn’t the only thing that can separate readers and their libraries. If it’s 1920s Memphis, it’s hate and segregation. Richard Wright, a black teenager and later the author of Native Son and Black Boy, longs to borrow books from the public library, but it is closed to blacks. With the cooperation of a white co-worker, Richard borrows the man’s library card and devours the books inside. “Every page was a ticket to freedom, to the place where he would always be free.” A smart, sophisticated picture book for elementary school age kids and up, including those who think they’ve outgrown picture books.

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  • Goin’ Someplace Special

    by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

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    Fast-forward 30 years from Richard Wright, and we’re still in the segregated South. Now, though, at least the library is open to all. Nevertheless, in this semi-autobiographical book, ’Tricia Ann experiences a harrowing trip through a Jim Crow city to the library, that ‘Someplace Special’, her favorite place in the world. This award-winning picture book is a touching tale of pride in the midst of indignities, and the hope that lives in books and libraries.

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  • Library Lion

    by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

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    In this light picture book for the younger set, we once again face the question: Who belongs in the library? This time, it’s an uninvited lion that walks into the library. Despite the protests of one librarian that lions don’t belong, librarian Miss Merriweather insists that the library is a place for everyone. That is, the strict Miss Merriweather clarifies, as long as they are not breaking any library rules. A warm friendship develops and, as it turns out, maybe library rules can be broken, if it’s for a very, very good reason. Preschool and early elementary children will adore this New York Times bestseller.

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  • Lola at the Library

    by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

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    In the books discussed above, a meaningful trip to the library is never a solo experience. Always, there’s a librarian, friend, or supportive adult who helps make the young person’s library experience happen. Reading Lola at the Library is a chance for you to be that person to a preschooler. This simple picture book is a lovely little introduction to both the workings of the library (library cards, storytime, and how to check out books) and the excitement and wonder of a library outing.

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Show your library some love, and it will show you the world.


What other libraries from literature (or real life!) hold a special place in your heart?