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Susan: February 2010 Archives


More Than One Way to Shelve a Book

Posted by Susan on February 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Libraries
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Ask a simple question, get lots of fascinating answers. Last week, I talked about my home library and asked: "Do you organize your books? How so?" Between comments on the original post and on Facebook, I got over 200 responses. I thought you might enjoy reading a sample of them. There were lots of funny, creative and intriguing answers.

How did the majority of people say how they organized their books? By genre? By author? By subject? Nope (although all of those were mentioned repeatedly.)

Child organization 2.jpgThe number one answer was: by physical attribute. Height, size, width and weight were all on the list. Also, whether the book was hardcover or a paperback. A surprising number of people said they sorted by color. See this picture for a beautiful example.

"I live in an RV. The few precious books we keep are divided by owner (Mom/family) then fiction/non-fiction, then ordered by size (because space is at a premium)."

"Hardcovers are shelved vertically and paperbacks end up stacked horizontally."

"Height, so I can adjust the various shelves to the level of the books on them. (This drives people who organize by subject crazy by the way)."

The second most popular method was by genre and the third was alphabetical. Many adults were very specific about they shelved their books. For example:

"As a grad student I had a special system. My personal library was broken down by subject, content similarity, book size, and color, since I knew exactly in my head which books I had and what each one looked like. I could find them much quicker that way."

"I have photos of each of my bookcases, so that when I move, I can arrange the books exactly how I had them in the previous setting. I pack them according to bookcase too. Original arrangements are by topic, and size, mostly, often author, if several titles by same."

Children's books posed a much bigger challenge, and one I completely understand:

"Arrange the children's books?? Try explaining that concept to my 4 year old."

"I put them in a bookshelf. Then said child comes along and tears them all out. Then rinse and repeat."

Leon's Library.jpg"I have 3 year old twins, I am happy if their books are back on their book shelf every night!"

"My son's books always get scrambled through his room every time I try to organize them."

"If I can keep the kids' books with the spines facing the right direction, we're doing well."

"Are you kidding me? We have books everywhere. Just getting them on a shelf is an accomplishment. I take solace in the fact that the books are all over is because they love to read book, after book, after book."

"My toddler is against organization."

Here's some of the methods used by parents:

"Big books on the big shelf. Little books on the little shelf. Keep the books off the floor."

"I have the board books down low, and a big shelf of readers. Then there is a giant pit full of oversized books I don't know what to do with. All the books in the kids' room are left to their own devices. It's all about serendipity up there."

"On my adult shelves, by category, then author, then height, for visual appeal. On the kids shelves, there is a lot of traffic. So I just tidy and place by size so it looks neat."

"I've got it 'easy' since my child is a toddler; all indestructible board books on one shelf, other books arranged by publisher/series on another shelf with a special spot for 'current reading' books. We're concentrating on winter/snow-related books this week."

Child organization.jpgA few people mentioned that it was the children actually doing the organizing:

"As a child I wanted to be a librarian and taped little call letters to the fronts of all my books."

"When my daughter was 8 she began organizing her book shelf by genre. I was in chidren's literature course while finishing up my English degree and she was fascinated by the work I had to do. So one day she decided to put all of her historical fiction, fantasy, biography, etc. in respective categories. I was impressed by how much she had learned."

And I found that not everyone holds on to their books.

"I try to give my books away. I only keep those I have an attachment to. I find it's better to share with the Veterans Admin., or library, or wherever so they are read again and again."

"We recycle a lot of my son's books with their younger cousins. We lay out the books they've outgrown and invite cousins over to pick and choose what they like. The rest have gone to the friends of the library."

Plus, I discovered some interesting and creative ways to shelve books (and other objects.)
"The most fun way to organize is to have the titles of the book all tell a story as you look the spines on the shelf. Sentences and poems are fun to make that way. I also like to put them in order by relation to one another."

Flotsam"I am a self-confessed bibliophile. I live with my books, constantly making stacks of the ones I'm reading at the moment and displaying them with other furniture about the room. At school, I've arranged low, long book shelves with one standing tall bookshelf for display of children's books with great, illustrated covers/sleeves and related artifacts that go with that theme. For example: Flotsam is on display with a collection of shells, clay sea creatures, etc."

And, this was a common refrain:
"I just want to know how she gets her kids to follow the system!"

The truth is, I don't. I mentioned in my previous post that we had moved recently, but it was six months ago. My son had disorganized everything I had originally organized. Our books were everywhere, so last weekend, I made an attempt to put them back in some kind of order. We discovered lots of books this week because we were finally able to find them.

And here are my favorite comments. I kept these until the end to give you a laugh.

"By how short the errant chair leg is."

"I organize them... mess them up a bit... then organize again."

"The librarians do it for me. I store them in my library bag until they are all read, and then I drop them in the book return slot. Then I go look for more already-sorted books. It's like magic!"

"Yep, right on the back of the toilet in order of which was most recently read!"

Thanks to Lee Erickson for the beautiful pictures of his toddler granddaughter looking at books. See his whole post on the subject here (with more great pictures).

Thanks to Alex Zealand for the picture of her five year old's bedroom and his book collection.


A Children's Librarian at Home

Posted by Susan on February 17, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Libraries
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I spent a lot of time this weekend in the library, but I don't mean the public library where I work. I was organizing my home library.

We've moved a couple of times, and every time the bookshelves get set up, I struggle with how to arrange the books. My children's book collection has grown quite large and by now encompasses at least 5 bookcases.

This time when I shelved everything, I gave a great deal of thought to how my kids would use the library.

On the bottom shelf I always put board books (which are impossible to keep in order, of course). When my older son was a baby, we kept his toys and board books on the bottom shelves, so that he could play with anything he yanked off. At the moment, most of the board books are in the baby's room which has a built in bookcase. Baby book shelf
The picture books went on the lower shelves to make it easier for my son to reach them. I also set up a stool near the bookcases, so he can reach the books up top. (The picture books go up to the fourth shelf on each bookcase because I have so many).

My older son is starting to learn to read, so I pulled every early reader I had (2 shelves worth) and put them near the bottom also. That way, they're accessible any time he wants them. Early reader shelf
I couldn't leave it at that. I had lots more categories to organize! I made shelf space for compilations, Mother Goose, classics and poetry.
Classics and Compilations
I have a shelf for non-fiction, which I need to add to. Also, I always have a shelf for the Caldecott and Newbery winners (and I this year I'm going to add the honor books).
Caldecotts and Newberys
Comic strip books, like the magical Calvin and Hobbes have just about taken over their own bookcase. Comic Strip books
I've given holiday books their own special section. That way I don't have to search through all the picture books every time a holiday comes up. Holiday shelf
Chapter books are on the top shelves, including long series and favorite authors. Chapter books
And of course, Harry Potter gets a shelf of his own. Harry Potter shelf
Also, whenever I organize, I always leave a box open for donations. It's okay (but hard) to give away books, but it's also a good idea to remove books that you don't like or bought on an impulse. That way you'll have more room for the rest. Donation box

And yes, because I couldn't help it, I alphabetized the books by author. Only by letter though, so all the W books are on the same shelf. That makes it much easier to find multiple books by the same author author. Plus, when I'm looking for a book, it's much quicker to go to the right shelf instead of searching all the books.

So here's a glimpse of a small part of my library. (Keep in mind that you're only seeing three bookcases). I actually have ten bookcases in use, most of which are filled with children's books. The shelves are not completely full, on purpose. That's for all the books we have yet to discover!Bookcases

But really, it doesn't matter how you organize it. The most important thing is that you have a designated space to put the books you read to your children and that they're able to access it on their own. Size doesn't matter. When I was growing up, my mom kept one small shelf of picture books in my brother's closet. I can't tell you how exciting it was every time I went to that shelf and picked out a book for us to read together.

Do you organize your books? How so? Do you have a special place set aside for children's books that your kids can access? Is it in their bedroom? The living room? Or someplace else. I'd love to see your children's bookshelves. Please e-mail me at If I get enough pictures, I'll showcase all of your bookshelves next week!


A Tangled Web

Posted by Susan on February 10, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Chapter BooksClassics
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When should you read Charlotte's Web to your children?

It's a beautifully crafted book. The characters are vivid and easy for children to connect to. It's a wonderful combination of reality and fantasy. It does a "terrific" job of explaining friendship. Charlotte's Web.jpgIt's a perfect chapter-a-night book, the chapters aren't too long and there are enough pictures to keep a child's interest. Also, a surprising number of the chapters end with a description of someone going to sleep, which makes it a great book to read at bedtime.

But, but but... Charlotte dies at the end. There's no way to get around that fact or sugarcoat it. You can explain to your children that death is part of the natural cycle of things and that Charlotte's children live on. No matter what you say, though, I guarantee your kids will be sad at the end of the book. I know I am every time I read it.

Many people read Charlotte's Web as a first read aloud. As a librarian, I frequently get asked what age the book is appropriate for. My answer is always that it depends on your child. Will they be able to handle it?

I recently asked myself this same question when I was deciding whether I should read it to my son. Stuart Little and My Father's Dragon had both been big hits for him. Was he ready for Charlotte's Web?

We talked about it for a while. He loved the cover and wanted to see more. I let him look through the book, taking in the pictures. I asked if he wanted to read the book, even if something very, very sad happens in it. He said yes... and we plunged ahead.

Reading Charlotte's WebIt was a wonderful experience. He savored each chapter and always begged for another one when we were done reading. He adored the goose, goose, goose and the gander, gander, gander. He fell wholeheartedly in love with Wilbur. He was studying spiders in his science class and he soaked in all the facts about spiders presented in the book. Since he was on the cusp of learning to read, he was delighted to learn how to spell "pig" and "Charlotte" and then find those words throughout the book.

Then came Chapter 21: The Last Day. You know the one. It ends like this:

"Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died. The Fair Grounds were soon deserted. The sheds and buildings were empty and forlorn. The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. No one was with her when she died." (Excerpt from Charlotte's Web by E.B. White)

Before we read the chapter, we talked about the fact that there was something really sad about Charlotte was coming up. I told him that she was going to die and asked him if he still wanted me to read it. He said yes, and he snuggled into my lap and I held him very tight while we read the paragraph above. And then we both cried and talked about it. But then we moved onto Chapter 22 where we met Charlotte's children... and there was hope in the story again. And we were both okay again.

I asked him recently about the book (we read it a few months ago). He said it was one of his favorite books and he loved it. I'm planning to read it together again in a year or two.

eb-white-award-final-emboss.gifJen mentioned that there is now an award in honor of E.B. White. Did you know that the Association of Booksellers for Children sponsors the E.B. White Read Aloud Awards each year?

When did you read Charlotte's Web to your children? Would you do it again at that age level? Did you decide not to read the book to their kids? When did they read it to themselves? When did you read it to yourself? What was their reaction? What was yours?

I'd love to hear about your experiences with this timeless classic.


What's your favorite book today?

Posted by Susan on February 3, 2010 at 12:00 AM in Recommendations
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What's your favorite book?

That's an impossible question to answer.

Do I mean your favorite book from your childhood? Your favorite book as an adult? The book that most impacted your life? The book you read last week?

It's amazing to see how our tastes change over the years. As a librarian, I can't tell you how many times I've heard: "My child loves this book. It's his favorite." Yes, it's his favorite book right now. But what about last year? What about six months from now?

I Stink.jpgLet me use my own kindergartner as an example. His first favorite book was Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy! because he loved to play with it. Then he moved on to Good Night, Gorilla, Goodnight Moon, and Freight Train. Blue Hat, Green Hat enjoyed a spot on top of the charts too. As he got older, it kept changing. I Stink, Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go and Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel started appearing regularly on his must read pile. He thought Are You Ready to Play Outside? was the funniest book ever and we read that one over and over (and then some.) He's gone through Berenstain Bears, Dr. Seuss, Arthur and Curious George phases (some of which are still going). Dog Train.jpgWhen we were reading Charlotte's Web, he couldn't wait for the next chapter. I asked him today, and he said his favorite books are Rhinoceros Tap, Philadelphia Chickens, Dog Train and Blue Moo... all wonderful books/albums by Sandra Boynton. They've been on the top of his charts for at least three years.

And I've changed my favorites too. In second grade, Cam Jansen was the best thing out there. When I was in fifth grade, I thought there was nothing better than the From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and I wanted to go live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I loved Marjorie Morningstar when I was an angsty teenage. Man Who Walked.jpgAt the time, it felt magical and as if Herman Wouk had written it just for me, but it doesn't resonate as much for me now. If you asked me for my favorite today, I'd say Pride and Prejudice. The interesting thing about that book is that I've understood, appreciated and loved it in different ways at different ages. But, I'd also say that my favorite book today is The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. And as of three months ago, I'd add Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. There's no such thing as one favorite, at least, not for me.

I wrote last week about keeping a book journal and got many wonderful responses. A few people commented that the idea of recording books every single day seemed overwhelming. If that's too much for you, try keeping a favorites journal. Wouldn't it be great to have a record of that?

What phases have you and your children gone through? What worked before that doesn't work anymore? What works now?

And most important, what's your favorite book today?

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