Your kids, your peers, and even your bosses might not understand what you do as a librarian. However you know that your role is absolutely essential, no matter what kind of library you work in. The good news is that you don’t have to lecture them to get them to understand. Every librarian knows that books make the best teachers1, so here’s a list of 15 stories that can teach kids and adults to love libraries.
Whether these books are about libraries, librarians, or about ordinary people who saved the day by turning to a library for the answers, the books on this list will make their readers appreciate librarians and all that they do.
1. Lottie Paris and the Best Place, by Angela Johnson
The library is Lottie Paris’s favourite place - and it’s Carl’s favorite place, too. When Lottie and Carl meet, they become friends, and read about each other’s favourite subjects.
This is a great place to start with young kids - the publisher recommends it for children aged 5-9.
2. The Library Pages, by Carlene Morton
While the librarian at Happyland Elementary School is on maternity leave, her students take over running the library.
This book is also for young children, from about ages 5-6. It’s never too early for kids to learn how to - and how not to - run a library.
3. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by EL Konigsburg
Claudia and her brother Jamie run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. There, they uncover the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at an auction for a bargain price of $250, but which might be worth millions.
A classic for more than 50 years, these cultured kids research the statue at the Donnell Library to prove its worth. For ages 8-12.
4. Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Matilda Wormwood's parents and teachers have nothing but disdain for her intelligence and curiosity, but she’s got a special talent - so they’d better think twice before locking her away again.
Book-loving Matilda is so full of unused intellect that she develops telekinesis. They say this one is for ages 8-11, but the upper limit is just a suggestion.
5. A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket
Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are very unlucky, and as if being orphaned weren’t bad enough, none of the remaining adults in their lives are quite capable of protecting them from villains who want to steal their inheritance.
Another book for young readers aged 8-12 that has tremendous crossover appeal. In the first book, The Bad Beginning, the Baudelaires foil a horrifying marriage plot by turning to their neighbour’s library for a book about marriage law.
6. Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke
Meggie father, Mo, a bookbinder, has a terrible secret - when he reads aloud, the words come to life. Unfortunately, that includes the villains.
Any good book makes you feel its characters are real - but this trilogy invites you to really think that through. Readers will be drawn into these pages even as they grow increasingly relieved that they can close the book and leave the characters inside. For ages 8-12.
7. Novels of the Great Library, by Rachel Caine
The Great Library of Alexandria never burned down - instead, it has become a separate country with its own standing army. If knowledge is power, then the Great Library has all the power.
The potential of a libraries is boundless - especially the Great Library. This book will reinforce the fact that knowledge is power even as it reminds us how lucky we are that libraries are for all. For young adults.
8. Harry Potter, by JK Rowling
Harry Potter receives some surprising news on his eleventh birthday: he’s a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Every Harry Potter book could be renamed Hermione Granger and the Time I Saved the Day Using Research While My Friends Flailed About, but I guess that’s not as catchy. Hermione routinely drags Harry and Ron to the library - even the Restricted Section - or turns to Hogwarts, A History for solutions to the trio’s problems. A series for all ages, and one that grows with its readers.
9. The Librarian of Auschwitz, by Antonio Iturbe
Fourteen-year-old Dita is asked to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak into Auschwitz, and she agrees.
For young adults, and based on a true story, this novel will remind us that books are as essential as food and water to human life.
10. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Liesel has to adapt to new foster parents and the Nazi regime at the same time, alone, after the death of her brother. As things get worse, her foster parents harbour a Jewish fistfighter, and Liesel begins to steal books the Nazis are attempting to destroy.
A book that may challenge teenagers, it was marketed2 as adult literature in some countries and young adult literature in others. Protagonist Liesel learns to read, and along the way, learns the power of words - including their power to tell her own story.
11. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Two brilliant magicians partner up to bring magic back to England after centuries of it having been lost, and the government persuades them to help in the war against Napoleon. But the two magicians don’t see eye to eye about what magic they can and should practise.
Assembling a library of old, forgotten books enables Mr Norrell to bring back magic after the ability to perform it had long been lost to England. A great reminder that books can always bring a little magic into our lives. Literary fiction for adults.
12. The Borrower, by Rebecca Makkai
A children’s librarian in Missouri helps smuggle books past a child’s overbearing mother, who has enrolled him in weekly antigay classes. She ends up on a road trip with him when he runs away from home.
Libraries can be buildings that hold books, but they can also be so much more. Even a refuge. Literary fiction for adults.
13. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Henry has Chrono-Displacement Disorder: his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. Each time he meets his wife, their age difference changes.
In this novel, Henry is a librarian, and he meets Clare at the library. A genre-bending novel for adults.
14. The Book of Speculation, by Erika Spyler
Simon Watson, a young librarian, finds an old book on his doorstep: a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange things like the drowning of a circus mermaid. Generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drowned on July 24th - which is only weeks away.
A book can be the key to knowing yourself, your family, and how to save it. Even if there aren’t any mysterious drownings in your family history, you can learn more about previous generations of your family at the library. Adult literary fiction.
15. The Lost Book of the Grail, by Charlie Lovett
When young, American Bethany arrives to digitize the Barchester Cathedral library’s manuscripts, Arthur feels threatened. He tries to stop her, only to find in her a kindred spirit who loves knowledge and books - and who shares his obsession with the Holy Grail.
Many readers can relate to the library being Arthur’s happy place - and many librarians are asking questions about how technology has changed and will continue to change what the physical space of libraries looks like. Adult literary fiction that bends genre.
What books would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments below, or Tweet us @TryVable!
- Duke Today Staff. (2012) Top 5: What and How We Learn From Fiction, Duke Today https://today.duke.edu/2012/03/fiction
- Ardagh, Philip. (2007) It’s a steal, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/jan/06/featuresreviews.guardianreview26