Read-Aloud Revival :: Library Visits

Let’s talk library visits.

During last month’s revival, Caroline asked a great question:

“Because of all the bad literature in libraries today, I haven’t found going to the library as a family to be a very enriching experience. My strategy right now has been to select books for read aloud myself, put them on hold, and then run in to get them. I would, however, like my kids to have a regular library experience growing up. How do you make going to the library a good family experience without coming home with a lot of poor quality books?” 

I’ve struggled with this myself. I absolutely love the public library, but it is true that schlepping my crew there each week can be a trial. Not only are small children hard to manage in a library environment, the library shelves are literally packed with drivel- the kind of garbage that I don’t want any of my kids to read. (Captain Underpants, anyone? My local library actually has an entire shelf devoted to those treasures. Seriously.)

All books are not created equal. It would be better not to read at all than to read a bad book! You are what you eat, right? If I want my child’s soul to be nourished by the good, the true, and the beautiful, I’ve got to help him heap that onto his plate. I don’t allow my children to fill their physical bodies with junk, and I certainly won’t allow them to fill their souls with it, either.

Knowing the Risks

I worked in a rather large public library system for three years, and as an on-call assistant I was able to hop around to 14 different branches and see how they all worked. I loved that job, but I learned some things about the library world that bothered me greatly. Every single library I worked at operated from the same idea that everybody, children included, should have unfiltered access to any information they wanted. Those libraries had books of all kinds (and I do mean all kinds, ahem) on the shelves. If a child of any age wanted to check out a book on an adult-topic (and I do mean adult topic, ahem), we, as library employees, were not allowed to refuse them or even to suggest they ask their parents first. Furthermore, if a parent asked me what their child had checked out, I wasn’t allowed to tell! Freely dispensing information of any kind to whomever wanted it was the library’s die-hard mission.

Crazy, yes?

In many (though certainly not all) libraries, the books that are prominently displayed as “great reads” may, in fact, be nothing of the sort. I was often surprised at the twaddle- or worse- trotted out and recommended on a regular basis at the libraries I worked in.

It wouldn’t be surprising, for example, to hear a librarian recommend Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass to a child who asked for a title similar to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the library world, both books belong to the child’s genre of fantasy- that one is twisted and dangerous while the other is noble and classic would not even enter into the equation.

The librarians are our friends, of course- and they do want to help our kids develop a love for reading- but it’s important that we stay tuned in to what our kids are plucking off the shelves. The idea that “any reading is good reading” is a common belief today. If we don’t subscribe to that theory, then we need to make sure we are the hard stop before anything comes home in the book bag. When it comes to choosing literature that develops a strong moral imagination in our children, nobody else will protect our children’s souls the way we will.

(Side note- I’m currently reading Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken the Child’s Moral Imagination and it is excellent! How many of you would be interested in talking about how to use books to build a strong moral imagination in our children? I am slowly coming into a deeper understanding of this myself and would love to have a conversation about it. Anyone up for that?)

So… How Do We Do It?

First of all, we don’t necessarily have to. Jamie at Simple Homeschool has written about how (and why) she makes use of the library without bringing her kids with her. But many of us still want our kids to make library treks with us on a regular basis. How do we make use of libraries without caving on our literary standards? Can we find ways to encourage our children to choose good books and leave the drivel on the shelf? Can we manage to bring small children (even if only occasionally) without losing our sanity? Are there ways to make a family library visit an enjoyable and edifying part of our week?

Let’s see what we can come with in the comments. If you have any ideas, we would love to hear them. I’ve fixed up the combox to make it easy-peasy to participate in the conversation.



Don’t forget, you can find links to all of our past Revivals at the main page.

Go here to get the Read-Aloud Revival form if you’d like to track your time. There are no requirements to participate, of course. Just bring yourself, your desire to read-aloud to your kids, and a thing or two to say in the comments.

Now… let’s chat!


  1. I go online and put books on hold, so they are waiting behind the desk at the library when I get there. So much easier than searching for them myself! I let the little guys pick out books too (our boys are 5, 3, and 1). At this point I’m comfortable with them choosing some less than great books sometimes…to me it is like eating a little junk food at Grandma’s but eating healthy food most of the time.

    • That’s my system, too. I put most of our read-alouds (and lots of independent reads that I know each of my kids will enjoy) on hold, so we don’t have to dig around to find what we need.

      I should also probably qualify my twaddle statement. :) I do think there is a place for twaddle here and there, especially when kids are in the fluency stage. My Tulip is there right now (she’s 9). She can read on her own, but is in the stage where she needs lots and lots of practice with easy books in order to pick up speed. This is what Ruth Beechcik and Susan Wise Bauer both encourage, too- allowing lots of easy reading to build up their fluency and speed. Tulip currently devours piles of Candy Fairy and Disney Fairy books.

      But for read-alouds, I never read twaddle. Besides, I’ve got to enjoy whatever it is we are reading aloud, too! :)

  2. I need to be a part of this convo! Did you see my lament about bringing children to the library? ;) My solution thus far has been to have a great huge stockpile here at the house and to buy as needed (mostly used or as gifts for holidays). It’s worked out well thus far but I know that isn’t necessarily sustainable. I like the idea of ordering online but I need help being organized enough to have a working list going at all times. I appreciate any ideas to help!

    • I missed it! Is it recent? During Lent perhaps (I was offline)? Give me the link! :)

      I work off a whole bunch of booklists and just put things on hold to streamline a bit. I do try to add to our family library whenever possible, though. There is nothing better than a library booksale or a good bookshelf at the thrift store! :)

  3. I’m pretty picky about the books my youngest brings home, just as I was when my eldest was her age. My eldest has is now picky about her own books, so I figure that “training” (for lack of a better word – I’m sure there is a better word, but it’s early and I haven’t had my tea) has paid off.

    I will say that I was browsing the kids picture books and found a book on Picasso – a picture book – that was actually a book about his many mistresses. I was appalled. It was absolutely aimed at kids, and absolutely inappropriate. You really do have to be careful.

    We go to the library a lot. My eldest serves on two teen advisory boards and volunteers at least once a week, and my youngest participates in a homeschool book group there as well. When they were younger, like yours Sarah, we went once a month. All things in their own good time :)

    I still pick out a lot of books for them. Just because it’s fun. One loves classics and history books, one loves non-fiction nature and other science type stuff – so it’s really a learning experience for me to see what I can find. And then of course there’s all the books for me….

    • The Picasso book…. really?! I guess it shouldn’t surprise me, but it does. Madness, this.

      I think once a month is going to become our norm pretty soon. :) I have visions of leaving the three littles with Andy one Saturday a month and taking the three bigs with me on a monthly library excursion.

      You say, “All things in their own good time.” I think I might need you to repeat that to me. Daily please. :) I need the reminder!

    • You know what? That time speeds by, it really does. Except when you’re in the thick of it, of course. Then it seems like forever.

      I saw a Mom with 2 twin boys yesterday, about 2 months old. Precious. She told me she has 6 others at home. She looked tired, and beautiful. I thought of you and Andy. Lucky, lucky you. xo

  4. Do you guys read Housewifespice’s blog? She regularly does a YA novel review, and sometimes a picture book review, and she is able to find the most amazing, good, funny, interesting books- allowing you to sidestep all the junk.

    That said, we rarely go to the library. With six under 11, it’s such a hassle, we always have late fines, and someone inevitably has an accident in the toy area.

    • I don’t! But I’m off to find it now. The modern YA selections are particularly bad, so I’d love some guidance as my oldest ventures into the tween/teen years.

      We always have late fines, too. And I have yet to experience the accident in the toy area, but I’ll be massively outnumbered by un-potty-trained folk in less than a year, so I’m sure my day is coming, lol.

  5. Ohhh the library. It’s a love / hate thing really. After reading your post, the first thing I did was to see if my library had a copy of Tending the Heart of Virtue (they didn’t) because that’s what frugal mothers who like books do. Some times it works, and some times it doesn’t. But I digress… we are talking about KIDS and libraries here.

    My oldest is 8. When she first started reading I decided I would read every book before she did, and actually enjoyed revisiting all those childhood classics at night before I collapsed into sleep. But it was apparent very quickly that THIS child was going to outpace me — she is a voracious reader, and try as I might, I just could not keep up (in my defense, she does have many more hours during the day to read than I do — especially since I have NONE!) So then I began picking out series of books that I thought would be virtuous or at the very least “harmless”. Before I knew it she had read all of those too! What’s a mother to do?

    I now have 5 children (ages 8, 6, 4, 3 and 1) and we visit the library once every week or two and routinely come home with 60 or so books. It is much like a military operation — my husband comes with, we split up between the kids by age group and we TRY to quickly flip through every book before it goes into the bags to come home (while keeping track of the littlest ones who are randomly pulling and dumping books all over the library and the older ones who are picking up and reading titles and descriptions that they possibly shouldn’t). Sigh. All this and I get to routinely hassle w/ the library over “lost” books which I know we returned. It’s fun stuff. But every time I think that I am “done” with the library, that I can take no more, one of my older children will breathe in deeply as we walk in those library doors and say something like “wouldn’t it be lovely to just LIVE here — you could just read all day and night”. And isn’t that just music to a mothers ears? I mean, the post library sight of all those little bodies lounging in chairs, on the floor, on the couch with piles and piles of BOOKS and just reading reading reading (or being read to)… it’s a wonderful thing, right?

    So that leaves me here: trying to balance the good and the bad. Trying to protect my children’s innocence while encouraging an unbridled love for reading. I obviously don’t have a 100% fool proof method — flipping through the books to quickly “screen” them is not always successful. But my fall back is this: consistently TALKING with my children regarding good morals so that when they find themselves w/ a book that is NOT teaching those things (and believe me, I see this even in preschool board books) they know immediately that the book is not teaching the Catholic principles that we choose to live by. This technique is supported by Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ in her wonderful book The Education of Catholic Girls (TAN books — I highly recommend it especially for those of you homeschooling girls). She writes that the Archbishop of Westminster layed out the following rules for books to his seminarians: “Be perfectly conscientious, and if you find a book is doing you harm, stop reading it at once… be perfectly frank with your confessor or superiors. Don’t keep anything hidden from them… and don’t recommend books to others which, although they may do no harm to you, might do harm to them.” Such clear and practical advice, and while obviously meant for older more discerning readers, I think there is much here that can be taught to our children… especially since we cannot “preview” every piece of literature they get their hands on.

    Hope this helps further the discussion, and I can’t wait to see what others have to say.

    (P.S. — By the way, I just love your blog and visit here often. You always make me laugh and feel a bit less crazy for having my own chaotic bunch of home schoolers underfoot all day long… thanks a bunch!)

    • It is! My copy of Tending the Heart of Virtue is from the library. :) The only problem I have with borrowing instead of buying is that I cannot write in it, and a good book packed with worthy ideas just begs to be written in and highlighted and dog-eared to bits. I feel like I’m only getting 80% out of this book because I’m missing what I could dig out with a pencil to help me.

      I used to pre-read all of my oldest’s, too, and had the same problem: she outpaced me in no time! I started just skimming and flipping and that worked for a month or two, until she came to me after chapter 1 of a seemingly harmless book and asked what “strip poker” was. Uh-huh. It was a middle grade chapter book. Ever since then I either pre-read it all or look up reviews online. That can be time consuming, but I figure I wouldn’t allow my child to stumble upon a PG-13 movie, so I’m not going to allow them to stumble upon a book of that nature, either.

      I’m kind of random as to where I find online reviews. I would love to find a few good resources that I could rely on consistently.

      As she gets older, she often tells me, “You’ve got to read this book, Mom- it’s so good!” so I notice my own reading shifting more to things that she’s recommended. I figure it’s good for down the road, too- I’ll know a lot more about the titles my littles will read when they get to this stage! :) Anyway, there’s something innately satisfying about finishing a book in two or three sittings. I can’t do that with most adult fiction.

    • what a sweet shift…to daughter recommending books for the mama! can’t wait!

  6. Excellent post!

    I studied English Literature with an emphasis in education. A lot of the courses I took were geared towards middle school age and the twaddle available for that age amazes me and sickens me. It is such a hard age to find good literature for because it is either way to mature (if you know what I mean) or twaddle. No wonder kids in the middle grades are reading things like Twilight!

    I have kids of all ages from 18 to 1 and library trips are a big deal. We try to go once a month, but sometimes even that turns into a big ordeal. Most times I run in myself or have my teens actually pick out books for the younger set. Usually when we go I assign a teen (including me and dad) to each of the younger ones. We then help guide them. We look through each book before we take it home. I am very picky. I like it to be a good story with good pictures. If it isn’t, it stays home. My older kids also feel the same way and if a book is not up to snuff we are all good about distracting them and finding another one.

    Then I let the older kids go. Dad and I take turns looking over the younger ones in the play area while everyone else hunts for the perfect book. The teens have a different relationship with books. We are pretty open about what we read and they know I want to know about the books they are reading. I may want to read them too! If I have concerns over something they are reading we discuss it.

    I did let me two oldest read the Twilight series (and we all agree now that it was not good, lol) but I read them first. We discussed it in depth as well. Why we thought Bella was not a good role model, each of use using examples. It actually created some amazing conversations. But again, with 8 children I can’t possibly read every book my kids do.

    It is vitally important that at a young age our kids learn what twaddle is and how to avoid it. Captain Underpants is a perfect example of twaddle. I am glad to say even my nine year old passes right by those books. he might laugh at the guy in his under garments but never asked to check it out.

    The book you are reading sounds amazing! I might try to get it on the Kindle when I have some money in a week or so, lol. I bought a lot of yarn last month, lol.

    • Oh, I LOVE that your teens help choose titles for your little ones! Love, love, love.

      I think you’re right- that as the kids get into their teens, reading more blah-fiction alongside Mom and a good conversation would be invaluable, I would think. Actually, that seems like perfect training ground to me. They are going to run across crud as they get older, so they’ll already have the tools to deal with it and see it for what it is.

      My son, unlike yours, drools over the Captain Underpants shelf and thinks me utterly cruel for not allowing him to bring them home. Sigh. I feel like saying, “I’m protecting your brain from melting to oblivion right there in your handsome little head” but for some reason I don’t think he’d appreciate my heroic gesture. ;)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Well, I really am not a fan of the library (the horror, I know!). Oh, I do love the idea of all the free books at your fingertips. In fact, I spent much of my summer at the library each year growing up. I read my fair share of twaddle that’s for sure.

    With the library loaded with twaddle and things that I don’t want my kids to pick up it always seemed easier not to go. I also like having all our ‘friends’ readily available when the mood strikes. For these reasons I’ve always made the choice to purchase our books. That, and my library charges 25 cents per hold which rather gripes me, or is used to.

    Lately, however, I have come to terms with the library and I am trying hard to figure out a good system for us. My oldest is a reader, reading his way through 3-4 books each week. My wallet isn’t that deep! He also is really interested in a lot of non-fiction titles now, and that is really an area I don’t like investing money in because there are too many topics to cover.

    Right now our system is me loading up the cards with holds, picking them up once a week, and letting him choose from my selections. This seems to be working great. It is twaddle free, mom approved, and still a choice (though he will read all the books I bring home 90% of the time!). I hope in time I can figure out some 1-on-1 toddler free time to help him learn to select a good book. But for now, this is what it is.

    I’ve come to terms with the 25 cent charge too. I mean, where else can I get a pretty much any book I want to read for 25 cents? Sure, there are used books out there this cheap, but much of that is twaddle too and requires searching. I’d select the books from the shelves myself but a) I just don’t want to spend the time to do that when there is a system in place to do it for me – I’d rather spend the time reading to my kids, and b) our library system is 38 libraries big and we are at the southern tip of the county meaning for many of the books I want I’d have to drive over an hour in traffic to pick them up – yeah, not happening! At the end of the day, 25 cent charge or not, our library system has proven to have 95% of all the books I’ve been looking for.

    I’ve always invested in our picture books. But I am lately turning to the library for this as well because there are just so many good books out there (though, there is WAY MORE twaddle than good of course!). Again, I’ll load up the cards, pick them up, then skim them myself and read aloud the good ones, or offer up some of them to my older to read on his own who loves him a good picture book. At the end of the month we invest in the gems, and return the rest.

    I rely heavily on book lists and reviews. And I try to use a system for selecting books so I don’t end up with all the same kind of book each week, but rather a nice sampling of all kinds. I also keep an ear open to interests and make sure and add a couple books from those as well.

    While I still don’t love the library, I am learning! And my wallet is thanking me every single day :)

    • Gah! 25 cents per hold adds up fast! What a pain. :(

      Do you have a good place to find online reviews? I have some booklists I refer to (constantly), but I’d love to find some good places for online reviews- especially of newer fiction- that I could rely on in a pinch.

  8. What a great post! I would love to come along on this journey and discussion with you! I will buy the book and get started.

    I appreciate that you clarify that drivel, or anti-literature is a malady of the soul, not merely taken into our minds, but, at its worst, has the power to shape our character and form our soul. At its best, anti-lit leaves my child in an unaffected zombie state much like television.

    And, we have all had our mere feel-good read, but how much more valiant to find literature that feeds our little ones’ souls, enables them to dream big, and challenges them to make and to be the difference in a fallen world.

    Quality lit is not easy to find. I would love to glean from the mommies who go before me!

  9. We visit the library weekly on our way home from piano lessons. My kids absolutely love the library and I think nurturing that love is so very important! I want them to go on loving the library for their entire lives…

    That said, yes, there is definitely twaddle and worse on the library shelves, but there’s twaddle and worse on the internet and most of us still have a computer in our homes anyway. But we as parents set limits where the library fails to do so. Even with the risk of junk (and worse) making it home, I wouldn’t keep my kids away from the library. It’s just too lovely to see kids fall in love with those stacks of books in a way we can’t offer with our limited home libraries, even if we do have a fairly good personal stockpile. It just doesn’t match the library! And besides, we have stumbled across some absolute GEMS that we never would have found without browsing the shelves of the library. I never would have known to look for them on Amazon or to request them on hold…

    My kids all know that while they can choose their own books, they get filtered through me first (I’m usually sitting reading to the youngest in a corner of the children’s section while the older ones browse for their books.) I am the one who carries the library cards in my possession, so there’s no question of someone checking something out that I don’t know about. And my kids are so well versed in the routine of asking permission for each selection, that the 9 and 6 yr olds are able to filter out a lot of twaddle for themselves. (Though we do allow a certain number of comic books to come home each time. Hey, even I like to have a little twaddle myself amongst the better books I read…)

    I definitely look very closely at any book my oldest son chooses for his own reading. If I’m not familiar with an author or book myself, I tell him I will have to read some of it myself before deciding if it’s appropriate. The tons of picture books we check out are harder to fully browse before we check out–I just can’t read 40 or 50 books in the half hour we are there :)

    Sometimes, then, twaddle (or worse) does sneak a ride home. As soon as it’s recognized for what it is, I put it up on top of the fridge where none of the kids will stumble upon it and it goes back to the library the following week. When asked, I simply tell the kids it was not appropriate or that it was twaddle. Yes, they know the term :)

    For my own books, I am stuck with a quick perusal of the new releases that are so conveniently located right next to the checkout counter or putting something on hold that I can just grab at checkout. It’s way too hard to parade everyone through the quiet reading room to browse the stacks for myself…

    I’d encourage everyone to find a way to take your kids to the library and develop their love of stacks and stacks of books. If you don’t feel comfortable taking a group of kids, maybe have a certain Saturday each month or every couple of weeks to take one child at a time, rotating them so that you can have 1-on-1 time with each at the library and can thoroughly preview each selection before it comes home. It’s sad but true that there’s a lot of inappropriate or just plain bad books available to our kids, but there’s also so, so much good to be had from developing a relationship with the library!

    • GREAT IDEAS! I love this, and I agree- I want my kids to fall in love with the library and use it for life.

      We bring home a bit of junk, too- Tulip and Snapdragon both really like anime/comic books, and we have so much excellent literature in our life that we can handle a little twaddle. (Which is different than twisted literature like Phillip Pullman’s– I would not allow my kids to read anything like that– but mindless book-candy seems to me harmless in small amounts).

  10. It seems after reading some of the comments here that our library is extremely generous with limits, for which I am grateful! I put anything we are going to use for school on hold and pick it up about every other week.

    Our family rule is that my husband or I have to look through all books before the boys can read them. I don’t do it *at* the library- with my almost one-year-old I just don’t want to make the “get in/get books/check out” process any longer than it has to be. So we will check out and bring home all the books and then in the next day or so I’ll get to looking through them all. My oldest is only 7 so he’s not reading anything particularly long quite yet, so it’s easy to skim right now.

    Each of my boys has their own list most weeks- 1 science book, 1 other non-fiction book, 3-5 readers, etc. I also have a book list that I put together from multiple sources for my older one to use for his independent reading. He will pick a book or two off the list and I will either reserve it for him or he will find it on the shelves himself if it’s available at our branch. Then I know for sure that he will have at least 1 book to read that is appropriate and at his level even if the others he picks turn out to be duds. I didn’t realize it at the time, but giving him that list has been very motivating- he has made a personal goal of reading all the books on his list. If I had known it would motivate him to read more I would have made a list like this a lot earlier!

    • I love the idea of letting the child choose from a trusted book list. I use them all the time myself but never really considered handing one over to my kids. It would be great practice for learning how to find books, too! I’m going to do this!

  11. Michelle Hayden says:

    I just love this thread about the library! So glad to know that I’m not the only one with that love/hate feeling! Traditionally, we have not frequented our library due to the drivel. We were lucky early on to have been enrolled in Mother of Divine Grace homeschool, and everything they recommend is quality reading! I would feel safe reading anything that Laura Berquist recommends (age appropriate of course) or almost anything sold by Emmanuel Books (always keeping in mind the ages). I also love to read your book lists, Sarah, and a couple of other conservative bloggers I would trust (Jessica at Shower of Roses comes to mind). The book ‘Honey for a Child’s Heart’ is also a good resource. It’s a constant battle for our children’s hearts and souls, (esp. with the media pushing ‘Harry Potter’ and such), but it’s well worth the fight!! I would also love recommendations for good reading for a 13 year old boy who is an avid reader and loves fantasy and history!

    • Yes! I appreciate Laura Berquist’s recommendations, too. I don’t use MODG but her book, Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum, is one of my favorite homeschooling resources. Emmanuel Books and Bethlehem Books are both gems, too.

  12. Yes! I know this struggle very well! For the last 2 years we’ve done the online-hold, run-in-and-grab strategy, but I’ve been wanting to make a library visit a weekly thing. My latest attempts have been to limit everyone to 2 books, and they have to get the ok from me. I’ll ask, “Do you really want to check out that one? You can only pick 2, you know?” Or I’ll flat out say, “That is not a good book. Try again.” With my 7 & 9yo, I ask them what books they like, and I show them how to find books by the same author. I also pointed out where the fairy tale section is, the drawing books section, and that sort of thing. And, we don’t spend much time. I mostly let my 3 & 5yo pick whatever catches their fancy, they get to look at them in the car, then at home decide if I’d actually read it aloud to them or not. If not, it “disappears.” :) So far they haven’t caught on, because what they really want is just to pick a book and run it under the scanner to check it out. :)

    I’d love to talk about Tending the Heart of Virtue! I haven’t read it yet, but have listened in on CIRCE talks by the author along those lines. Good stuff.

    • Ah, limits. I actually hadn’t considered how limiting the quantity of books we bring home would be helpful in keeping out the drivel. Maybe that’s where I need to focus. I’m sure it would help my late fine issue, too. ;)

    • Well, *cough*, yes. The late fees and lost books were the original reason why the limit was imposed. Then it turned out to have other unintended (but beneficial) consequences! :D

  13. one trick that has worked for us is heading over to the children’s non-fiction section. it seems like we have better luck finding quality titles there rather than in the story book section. and the children like finding *their* section…a whole row of books on Egypt or snakes or butterflies!

    • Definitely! I suppose I could put holds on fiction and limit the perusing to the non-fiction section. Something to consider. I hadn’t thought of it before.

    • My kids love the non fiction section, but you must be careful there, too! We have found some very inappropriate content there.

  14. This is a great post, Sarah! As your former library co-worker, I wanted to throw out just one important piece of advice to your readers: find a librarian you trust.

    It’s true that there is a ton of nonsense in the stacks of the children section, but I’m often amazed and astounded by just how much a good librarian can help you weed out the junk. And to be clear, not everyone who works in a library is a librarian. In fact, they’re few and far between these days (I’m often mistaken for one).

    Use them as tools to help you sort through the nonsense. If you’re lucky enough to find a good one, they will keep you in quality books for years.

  15. We love library visit here! I love to discover treasures on the shelves. I’ve been upset with the amount of twaddle mine have been reading lately. For our next visit I plan to create a list of books and authors that I think they would like and I approve that they can read. They will need to use their library skills to locate the books. We also have visits when I must look at everything before they check out and they have to put back books I don’t like. I just have two ages 8 and 12, so the library visits are easier at this age, but the twaddle level is much higher!

  16. Great topic. Thanks for this post.
    I do both the online holds (I LOVE the online holds) and we also do occasional library visits- maybe once a month we will all go. We have five kids and they just know that “mommy has to look at every single book before it comes home.” It’s just a given, now. Each of them finds books they think they want to take home, pile them next to me and I check them (by reading or skimming them) and decide if those books actually get to COME home.

    That said, my oldest is 11, and I trust her. I still peruse what she chooses before it makes it into our book bag, but I also know that if she were to bring home a book and start reading it and realized it was NOT up to par, she would tell me. She’s also really helpful in “checking” the books her younger siblings bring me. We’ve been at this so many years that she knows what things I don’t want to bring home, so she’s a good filter alongside of me.

    • My 11-year-old is the same way. What a gift! I remember when she was reading Elsie Dinsmore (at my suggestion! whoops!) and brought it to me, alerting me to the fact that the book is blatantly anti-Catholic. She’ll do that with any book that has something sketchy in it, and this is a major blessing. I don’t expect all of my children to be this way, but I figure having an oldest do this gives me a bit of head start on reading ahead of the others!

    • I really look forward to this (hopefully!) with my oldest. She’s 4 now, but I can picture her reporting to me any book that slipped through my radar :) For now, I am still trying to figure out how to explain to her why the twaddle can’t come home with us… especially, if its something she’s seen elsewhere, like at a friend’s house or her grandparents.

  17. ugh. Yeah, we found a board book in our library about a penguin with two mommies. That was after I was already irritated that so many of the easy chapter books were about boyfriend/girlfriend type stuff…sigh. I just hate this. I grew up in the library, it was my favorite place in the world. So far, I try to go alone most of the time. My oldest is allowed to go and pick her own stuff, she knows the standards and I always, however briefly, look at what is coming in. We frequent the library more in the summer for the summer reading program. I wish it was a safer place.

    • Anonymous says:

      That reminds me of the last time we took a family trip to the library (5 years ago!). My four year old (at the time) was thumbing through a picture book that was out on display entitled “Heather Has Two Mommies”. There is just too much garbage to sift through at the library to find the few gems. Luckily he couldn’t read it, but what if he could?? It’s not worth it for me. I reserve on-line and grab and go. Late fees? I guess I am spoiled! Our library doesn’t charge any late fees! Only what My husband and I feel will help instill the good, true and beautiful comes into our house. I only wish my parents had done that for me! I filled my head with twaddle (and worse!) until I was in my 20′s and actually realized there was something better. Then I had a lot of catching up to do! -NDK

    • We’ve had a similar experience to these. Ugh.

      And NDK, I filled my head with twaddle as a child, too. I do think it has impaired my ability to read intelligently as an adult. I’m playing catch-up now.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Great ideas here. We used to use the library all the time but as the girls have got older and more little ones have come along we have used it less and less. Trying to find all the books to return was a nightmare and we always have fines. Even when we have a designated basket for library books I am always pulling beds out from the wall looking for books. It is always the rubbish that managed to get by me that was lost too. Our library has an awful lot of twaddle. You really have to search to find the good stuff. I often take book lists online and look them up at the library and rarely do I find many of them there. Then I just get depressed and cranky and end up buying them.
    I did read, on an earlier Reading Revival I think, about someone who had their children pick a novel, a non fiction book and something else and that is all they took home. We did try that here and it worked well. I still had to check them out but there were less of them!
    I do want the children to love the library so I need to get back to going regularly. Saturday mornings sound good or giving the girls a list of books to find. One thing that we do use is other homeschoolers libraries. I am much more likely to find books that I want the girls to read on homeschoolers shelves. Much more productive to ask them first then to tackle the library.
    There are books called Captain Underpants????? I will admit sometimes my girls will read a bit of twaddle especially during holidays but we try to keep it to a minimum.

    • Yes- that one suggestion to have the child choose a fiction book, a science book, a biography, a book of poetry… it’s something I want to bring in here. I love that idea. I think it would be especially fruitful if I gave the kids a list of fiction titles to choose from. Then they could find one on the shelf, and pick more or less freely (with me checking, of course) from the non-fiction stuff.

  19. i love this conversation! thank you, sarah!!

    we’ve come into a rhythm, by the grace of God, that works for us:

    1. all to the library (with daddy, too! he works from home. . . .) once a month, to develop a good “libraries rock!” feel for the kids. with 4 kids, i can’t manage more than that, & that’s about the length we can go before we need another round of library books.

    2. each kid (3 that read (or handle books, anyway), 1 in mama’s arms) gets 5 books (originally based solely on the fact that i can’t carry any more in bags than that, plus what i get). they’re so used to that fact that it helps them discern what they really want to spend their time on, & we have discussions right there in the library about it. (that yucky face? we don’t want that in our house, honey. how about charlie & lola?)

    3. i choose a whole heap of what looks good to me, has good illustrations (my older two kids are very artistic & good illustrations definitely matter to them. i love this!), & looks heart-strengthening.

    4. that said, sometimes I inadvertentely choose something cruddy or they do, & start reading it to them, which prompts a discussion of why we don’t want to read this, what it’ll do to our hearts & minds, how it’s not something lovely or noble or beautiful (think phillippians). then i stick it on top of the fridge. it’s not fool-proof, as sometimes we disagree, & then those books mysteriously disappear. :)

    & i honestly think you should tell your little male lovey what captain underpants will do to his sweet little brain. i tell my 9-year-old all the time, that i want him to go the other way, noble & strong, & that book right there? not getting you there, hero!

    • LOVE your #3 and #4 especially. Those conversations about cruddy books are invaluable. Those are seeds planted for when they are adults and find themselves reading stacks of adult twaddle, forgetting that there is more going on in their hearts and minds when reading than they initially realize.

      And you’re right about Captain Underpants. I’m totally going to have a conversation with him about it next time he begs. I have visions of accidentally letting that entire shelf of trash slip accidentally behind the library rack, but your suggestion is more noble. ;)

  20. Caroline says:

    perhaps there can be a comparison between the supermarket and the library–I also hate bringing my kids to the supermarket, as I don’t want to keep saying, “no, we’re not going to buy that, and this is the reason why”. Perhaps there can be an argument, though, for bringing one child, or a ‘category of kids’ (olders or youngers) and then making it a learning experience. ‘let’s see how things are categorized in the library- look, there’s The lion, the Witch, there’s A little princess…yuk, what is that doing on the shelf, there are a lot of good mixed in with the bad here…I did a little experiment several years after I had been reading aloud good literature to the kids, and they brought home a book that wasn’t bad, but was just on a totally inferior level from the others and asked them whether they saw any difference, and they didn’t. It reminded me of a professor in college who said that it’s no big deal if you can recognize the Pieta as a great work of art; can you leave St. Peter’s and go onto the streets and recognize the cheap replicas as ugly pieces of art though? and therein lies the difference, as many people can’t. It seems like it’ll take many years of cultivating the good, true and beautiful before it has seeped in enough to be able to discern the difference between a good work, and a not so good one.

    • Yes to this- all of this. I feel like I’m still in training. I read twaddle as a child for both schoolwork and leisure reading, and I feel that I’m trying to make up for that as an adult. The development of a worthy literary palate is something that takes time. We don’t come into it overnight. That’s worth keeping in mind for both ourselves AND our children!

  21. First of all, I LOVE the idea of a discussion on using books to help bring about better better morals in our children– I take any help I can get! :)

    Secondly, looks like I should have read the comments before I typed up my thesis on “how the library should be seen as a book grocery store.” Great minds alike ;)

  22. I have tended to let my kids (12, 10, 8, 5) choose what they want to check out– knowing that this will land us with a basket of trash. After getting a stack of lousy books that has to last them a week or three, they have all learned to ask for help in choosing better books. But their first impulse was always the twaddly ones in the series section.
    Their tastes have definitely refined themselves over time, and my older kids even know which of the librarians at our branch know the YA/kids sections well, and which ones tend to point them toward the [too large] section of series books. They have stopped asking for help from those librarians.
    Once a month, I cull through book lists and recommendations and make reservations for each of them. When we get to the library, they all run to the Holds shelf to see what is waiting for them

  23. I think this is a very important topic and I’m loving all the wise comments. I only have babies at the moment (3, 2 and due in a few weeks), but from my growing up experience, I think there’s one thing all you good parents also can’t underestimate: which is how much your children do learn about what is meaningful and important and what is ridiculous drivel. My parents provided us with seemingly limitless and beautiful reading material, and as we got older would even discuss with us why some books weren’t so beautiful or meaningful, and in fact might be harmful. So, while we did get older and use the library on our own, and we did pick up the occasional book that was twaddle, as Sarah puts it :-), we were very aware that it fell into that category when we started reading it, and if anything, it often served to confirm what we’d learnt just from observing what our parents (and other intelligent and wise grown-ups) presented as good. I love the idea of libraries but I do dread them for that very reason (even other children’s book collections sometimes!) Sigh. Thank goodness my mom saved so many of those great books and I can generally pick from that collection for now, since it seems 80% of them are out of print, let alone out of libraries!

    • Oh, you are just practically my favorite commenter, Anastasia, because I think your experience as a homeschooled child sheds SO MUCH LIGHT on those of us feeling through this grand experiment in the dark. :)

      Thank you for the affirmation that what we are doing does make a difference. I hope I am gently training my children to recognize the differences between what is noble and what is not, though sometimes it’s so very hard to see if I’m getting anywhere because I’m still in the thick of it. Your comment is sunshine to my tired mama heart!

  24. I have a running list of books that look interesting – titles and authors that I’ve gleaned from catalogs, favorite bloggers who post their current reading in the sidebar, and a few book blogs. I used to keep the list neatly ordered under subject headings and tucked into my wallet; now it’s a jumble of scrap papers pinned to my bulletin board. I’m gradually transferring the whole system to my pinterest account.

    Every week or two, I place a bunch of holds then wait for them to trickle in. I sometimes take the kids to pick them up, and sometimes I go alone. Taking the kids is stressful because 1. WHY are there computers at child level in the toddler area?! and 2. J is currently at the screaming phase of 19 months.

    Once a month, we go to the big downtown library armed with a list of: two kinds of animals we want to learn about (for the non-fiction section), the dewey decimal numbers for a book I want to check out for myself in the upstairs area, the DD# for a ballet that G wants to see (currently viewing and loving Coppelia), and a list of several children’s fiction authors. The kids experience being patient while I look for my book, they see other parts of the library, we all get to ride the escalator, and then we go to the children’s area. We mostly stick to the list. Once we find the author/subject we’re looking for (discussed at breakfast, so it’s fresh on G’s mind), she can help choose which book we’re going to get. Then we make our way to the extensive audio book section, and G gets to choose out bags of books. I put back anything I don’t want her to read/hear, and if something works it’s way home that I don’t want, I stick it in the library bag to go back. It’s working for now, with the exception of the aforementioned screaming and computer mouse banging:)

    How do I find a good librarian??

    And, I think I’d better start listening to those lectures that you keep linking to; I’m not even sure what it means to have a strong moral imagination, but I’d love to learn!


    • I don’t really know how to find a good librarian. I haven’t found one here- the best one I knew on the west side was a coworker I loved to chat with in the back room.

      The lectures! Anything by Andrew Pudewa is worth listening to… at least 100 times. ;) Andrew Kern is also all kinds of fabulous but he’s much more esoteric/philosophical and sometimes I get lost in the clouds. :)

  25. Anonymous says:

    I really enjoyed your post! When I take my 5 kids to the library they (children of a philosphy professor, from a long line of librarians) all go to town, grabbing armloads of books! I’ll never forget the withering, aggrieved look one librarian gave me. I wanted to say “welcome to my world, lady.” Some days it seems like all I do is pick up books from every horizontal surface and reshelve them. And it is her job, after all. I saw a cool library cart in a catalog (Land of Nod?) except that it couldn’t do stairs…But I digress.

    Between the 5 of them, if each picks 10 books, that’s 50! Most of the library workers are friendly, and as someone said, there are some real gems of books to be found. I just don’t have the patience to comb through the shelves. It’s important though, to check them out, to keep them circulating, lest they get rid of them. There are even some older lives of the saints. Unfortunately, the books from a few generations ago, lesser classics from the 50′s and 60s, that were still around when I was young seem to have given way to more modern, uninspiring at best, books.

    My MIL wrote an article about her run-ins with the Catholic school library in the 90s. She was not popular for taking issue with the objectionable (immoral) content on the reading list! My children, as it turns out, are kind of archaic in their tastes. Very removed from the culture at large, fwiw. I laugh at some of their word choices. (“Zita isn’t heeding me.”) They don’t hear that from me! You can tell they’re book worms. I wrote the comment in the other thread about some unfortunate books that they wound up with. I was very dismayed, and had to do damage control. I hope I didn’t overreact.

    Also, I hope, that as you say, it’s the bigger picture that counts, and the vast array of excellent literature that they read steadily. So an isolated book here or there won’t undermine that too much. Because there’s alot out there that they will encounter sooner or later, and it will have less of an impact if they’re formed and fortified with the good stuff.

    • I hope so too! ;) and I’m totally going to start using your kids’ vocabulary. I have a couple who haven’t been heeding me lately. :)

    • Anonymous says:

      I might have missed this; but what general guidelines do you all use for the “coming of age books?” The ones that cover all those, you know, milestones of growing up. My daughter is almost 12, and, as I said, removed from all the girl stuff that most tweens discuss, for better or for worse. I do wish she had some close friends, but most of the kids on our street are the 3 and under set.

      Our uncle gave the kids some books; I did not read them first. My dd brought me “the Agony of Alice”, written in 1985, having already read it, and I braced myself for the contents. I was relieved it was fairly tame. I’m not sure what I think of the treatment of Catholicism, though. Many books will portray the faith, or Catholics, in a denigrating light.

      I can’t believe that I actually read a Judy Blume book, Dear God, it’s me Margaret at the tender age of 6 or 7. I don’t recommend it from what I remember. But most books geared towards kids as they grow towards adolescence are going to cover those topics, so I’m wondering what rules of thumb you use for discerning what is suitable reading material. Just basic judgment? Or anything more specific? Much easier to deal with picture books!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Sarah,I am so glad you are writing about this. I have many avid readers. I collect book lists from a ton of homeschool websites mostly Catholic or very conservative and then compare them to each other.

    I am really struggling with my now 12 yr old girl. She reads so much and so quickly but doesn’t mind rereading things. I can hardly keep up. Kind of wish there was a kids-in-mind (movies) for books. Now, wouldn’t that be a find!! Finding a like minded librarian is a great idea. I don’t have one just yet, but have gone to the library and asked for some recommendations for my 12 yr old and definitely got a picture as to what that librarian thought was good. Not to this mom’s liking. We enjoy visiting other libraries too–some have a wide range of older books which is great. Also,I don’t think we have found a Bethlehem book my kids haven’t liked.
    We use MODG lists too–really enjoy that for reading living books for history.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I’m coming late to the party. When my kids were younger I did like many here and put the good books on hold and then let them each pick 3 books. I had a rule though, that I would not read the twaddle to them (like Berenstain Bears, Robert Munsch, etc) They had to read them on their own or have a sibling read to them.

    My problem now is not just with the library but with books in general. My oldest will be 14 soon and she is in the land of YA books. Our library has a huge section of YA books but it is so hard to find one that is not garbage. She reads classics for school but I think it’s okay to read brain candy once in awhile. The problem, though, is that the brain candy these days are about vampires/boy and girl issues/modern social issues like abortion and bullying. I just don’t consider this edifying for my girl to read. She is a voracious reader so this puts strain on her reading life. I have to tried to put her onto Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyers books but even though those books are well-written the subject,at times, can be a bit too adult for even a 14 yr. old.


    • That’s more or less my twaddle rule, too- you can read it yourself but I won’t be reading it to you.

      We have yet to venture into the land of YA fiction, but from what I hear, the pickins are awful slim and most of it is just really terribly bad. What about Christian historical fiction for adults… like the Thoenes or Robin Jones Gunn or Susan Meissner. I haven’t read a lot of those lately, so I can’t really say whether they’d be appropriate for her age, but it might be worth looking into.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Sarah, your post has come at a very timely manner. I am constantly struggling with finding quality literature for my two daughters. They are both avid readers. We used to frequent the library on a biweekly basis, but I began to find books in the young adult section that were, well, completely inapproprate. Even the pictures or illustrations on several book covers has stopped me in my tracks during afternoons browsing the “YA” section. So, we now go online and put books on hold. I find the same experience when we visit Barnes and Noble. The “Teen” section is shocking. I am by no means a prude, but the books that are marketed to young adults are twaddle and immoral. I recently picked up a book for my 14 year old. It was a Pulitzer winner. The back cover gave an interesting synopsis of the story of the struggles of a young boy growing up on an indian reservation. I thought, this could be a book with some insight. Well, my daughter came to me after the first few chapters to inform me that the language was very “adult” with the use of some very strong four letter words to include the f bomb. She also informed me that the character in this book enjoyed looking at pictures of naked women and tracing their outines with his fingers…and that there was a word that started with an “M” that she decided it was best she didn’t look up!!!!! Thankful, my daughter came to me about this book. I think we will go back to Jane Austen…
    It’s the experience of getting lost in browsing the bookshelves of a library or bookstore that we as a family enjoy. Some of my favorite reads were discovered this way. But, it isn’t the same anymore, especially as my daughters get older and have read their way through the “decent” books in the young adult section.
    I would love a forum where like-minded parents could share/post a list of good quality literature that they have discovered through their reading which goes beyond the classics. As I have learned on one too many occasions, modern award winning books aren’t necessarily quality literature in both content and writing style.

    • On a recent date, my husband and I walked through the YA section of a bookstore and were more or less horrified. I don’t think I saw a single thing I’d let a teen read. It was really ridiculous. Seriously- I had no idea vampire romances pretty much take the whole market. I flipped through a few and noticed that some of them are rather… steamy. Ick. Not for my kids, thanks.

  29. I’m not sure if this was already covered, but is there a good place to find booklists, or reviews of books? I know Focus on the Family does a good job with movies (they put out everything in the movie so that you can make the decision for your family). I find that I want to stay more and more away from anything having to do with magic. I don’t want to get into a huge Harry Potter debate, but I feel God doesn’t want our family reading things having to do with magic, potions, spells and the like. I was reading a Magic Treehouse book to my oldest last night, and it got into magic wands and such, so I just told the kids we weren’t going to read it, which was too bad because it was on Leonardo DiVinci. I’m really looking forward to a great conversation on finding quality literature for our kids!

    • I don’t have a go-to source. I just do a lot of searching online, usually with words like ‘Christian homeschool review – book title’. It’s hit or miss. I love Focus on the Family’s Plugged In site for movie reviews.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hey Anne!

      I don’t have a whole lot in the way of suggestions. I’m more curious to know how other moms handle introducing certain topics, and at what age? Alot depends on the child. (One of my girls is super sensitive, and I think would be disturbed by elements that are prevalent today.)

      I’m sure there are very moral treatments of immorality (I’m thinking of Regina Doman’s new book, Rapunzel Let Down, that I’m looking forward to reading. Or anything from Anna Karenina to Madame Bovary for that matter.) But the subject matter is definitely of a delicate nature.

      I’m wondering if it’s better to break these kind of topics to them on our own terms, as opposed to letting them encounter them on their own when it could be shocking. I am not as vigilant with reading material as I should be, just because there is so much going on at any given moment. I’ve wanted to shield them, but maybe I’m sheltering them too much. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

      Since we don’t watch network television, their worldview is primarily being formed by what they read.
      -Colby S.

    • Regina Doman has a new book???? Squeeeeee!!!! (Running off to order it…)

    • From what I understand, its very “mature” reading, Sarah. Just so you know :)

    • Ok, got it. Thanks for the heads up. I just bought the Kindle version.

    • Anonymous says:

      I would request it for the library’s collection, but am a little hesitant lest young readers unprepared to encounter the material stumble across it. I’m hoping to buy it eventually though.

  30. Anonymous says:

    “If a child of any age wanted to check out a book on an adult-topic (and I do mean adult topic, ahem), we, as library employees, were not allowed to refuse them or even to suggest they ask their parents first. Furthermore, if a parent asked me what their child had checked out, I wasn’t allowed to tell! Freely dispensing information of any kind to whomever wanted it was the library’s die-hard mission.”

    I can not imagine that this is law. Does not a parent have to co-sign a library card for a child under 16 or even 18? If a parent co-signs the library card I would imagine they have every right to know what they are responsible of getting returned to the library on time.

    • You know, I can’t remember the loopholes in operation here, but I do remember it was a highly enforced protocol. Many parents raised voices and concern over it, but the library system held fast to their mission.

      The library system where I live now (I don’t work there) recently changed their rules to allow more parental control over what kids are checking out, so I know it’s not a universal thing.

  31. I was all about taking my kids to the library …. until they (ages 4 and 3) got into a fight about a stepstool and the librarian had to tell them to be quiet or leave. Now I go alone or if my husband is with me. My library’s kid section has a gazillion shelves stocked with books. It takes so long to go through and figure out what is good and what is not. I try to preread what I do bring home or just put books on reserve and grab them that way.

  32. I have a 6yr old and a 2 yr old. The older loves books and we make weekly trips to the library for story time and load up on about 20 books each week. I’ve tried to limit myself but I like to get a variety since he is a voracious reader. He can’t even wait for me to check them out before reading them usually and has been known to plop down on the floor at the checkout line to read. All this while the toddler is learning new and daring ways to escape or wreak havoc.
    I can’t do the online hold very often since our rate just went up to $1.00/hold!
    I love to frequent the used book sales and scour the thrift store shelves for interesting titles too. My hubby just commented that he’d have to build more bookshelves soon, I figure it comes with the territory of homeschool.

    • $1.00/hold! Yowza!!! That’s a doozy. I love getting books at thrift stores and used book sales (and garage sales too!). In fact, just last weekend I scored about 40 books from a local used booksale and my kids and I were squealing over my finds all afternoon. :)

  33. Anonymous says:

    I am glad to hear that other families have an abundance of books. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with books. We have a lot of clutter, but I can’t have it both ways, can I? I came across a book title that may have some good ideas, fwiw. A friend gave me a copy of the forward.

    It’s called Books Children Love, by Elizabeth Wilson

    I haven’t actually read it, but it’s nice when someone streamlines all those books out there into one handy list. -Colby S.

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