Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Library Day by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell; First Field Trips: Public Library by Cari Meister

Today I'm looking at two books about visiting the library, one more fictional and one nonfiction, as well as some thoughts on library books in general.

Anne Rockwell has a long history of books introducing children to everyday activities and places. She's recently started a series called "My First Experiences" which I've found very useful in my library. In this title, a blond boy named Don of about five accompanies his father to the library. They return materials and then his father leaves him in the children's room while he goes to use the computer. The boy listens to stories then hangs out with a another boy. They look at books, movies and magazines. One of the librarians from storytime suggests books for the boy and then he explores the children's room where various quiet activities are taking place. Don's father returns and he gets a library card then gets his books scanned and checked out. Don and his father return home after making plans to come back for a puppet show the following week.

The second library book is in a new series from Bullfrog books - First Field Trips. In brief, simple sentences it shows a small class of diverse children visiting the library. They meet a librarian, "She helps people. She finds books. She finds information." They sit for a storytime, learn to use the catalog, and find out the library has different types of materials like books, dvds, and magazines. Their teacher uses self-check to scan his materials, which are due back in two weeks. There are a few simple definitions of areas in the library and a little picture glossary and index.

Opinion on Anne Rockwell's title seems divided between librarians who are fans of Rockwell and absolutely adore it, love the diversity (not the main character or on the cover of course though. sigh.) and the more updated library. Then there's those who are horrified that the father abandons his child in storytime/to wander around the library, that magazines are promoted when many libraries aren't carrying them anymore and the generally old-fashioned drawings.

The child abandonment doesn't really bother me - I work in a small library and while we do have a "no unattended children" policy we're not really that aggressive about it, as long as the kids are behaving and not visibly distressed. Lots of libraries offer storytimes for preschool age without parents present. Rockwell's illustrations do have an outdated feel to them, but for many older adults introducing children to the library they're a familiar style and there is some diversity included.

Meister's nonfiction title is much more diverse - I think that might be the first time I remember seeing a younger African-American man portrayed as a teacher. It also portrays a generally technologically-updated library and is more general in portraying the library.

So, which book is better - my answer is neither. My opinion is that, although many familiar community landmarks like post offices, fire engines, and schools are all more or less uniform, libraries adapt to their communities. While I agree that magazines are rapidly dying and it's probably better not to emphasize them so much, every library has a different emphasis. Some libraries may offer chess games, art activities, and unaccompanied storytimes as seen in Rockwell's title. Others may have self-checkout or other services as in the nonfiction title. The library I work at has our picture books organized in neighborhoods, graphic novels integrated into juvenile fiction, toy train, kitchen, and dollhouse, circulating toys, and a pet hamster. A neighboring library has a manga collection that's probably 3 times the size of mine. Another has a dedicated teen area and programs. Another has a strong local history section. It's not really possible to write a "definitive" library book since all libraries are so different. I appreciate that both books show vibrant, happy spaces that are clearly supplying children and families with services they need and want and that's the most important thing.

Verdict: If, like me, you have teachers clamoring for "community" books both are excellent selections. However, if your budget is limited the Public Library title from Bullfrog is more generic and likely to hit more points in common with your individual library.

Library Day by Anne Rockwell
ISBN: 9781481427319; Published 2016 by Simon & Schuster; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

Public Library by Cari Meister
ISBN: 9781620312964; Published 2016 by Bullfrog/Jump; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

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