Free books!

How many people, if offered a dozen free books for their children, plus a couple of free DVDs, would say no?  The only catch is – you have to give them back after a month, but then you get a dozen more books, and more DVDs.  And so on each month. 

That’s what a local library does – provides a huge range of free books and DVDs and many other things for everyone: kids, mums, dads, teens, students etc.  But how many people still take their children to the local library?  Every time we go to ours, we can almost guarantee that we’ll be the only ones in the kids’ section or, at the most, there might be one other family there. 

I hadn’t really thought too much about this until my daughter began Kindy this year at the local primary school.  The Kindy kids all get to go to the school library once a week, which is terrific.  For the first couple of weeks after school I’d pull out the library book that my daughter, who is four, had chosen and stare at it, wondering if some other child’s book had been placed in her bag.  Because the books were completely unlike anything I could imagine her choosing.  And I have a rough idea of the type of book she likes because we go to the local library every ten days or so and she chooses three of her books herself and I choose the other three for her. 

By about the third week of term I talked to her about why she had chosen a particular book from the school library; it was clear she wasn’t interested in it because we read it the night she brought it home and then she never asked for it again.  And as she talked I began to understand the library process that they were using at school.  She told me that they didn’t get to look through the shelves; a selection of books was placed on tables for them to choose from. 

I witnessed this process when I did school duty a few weeks later.  There are 30 kids in my daughter’s class and there were about 40 books spread out on the tables.  About half the books were the same as the ones placed out for the previous week, the other half were different.  The boys got to go first; imagine 11 boys running over to the tables and pretty much grabbing the first book they saw.  Then it was the girls’ turn.  They did the same thing. 

There was very little time for the children to browse, to pick up a few books, to look at the covers, look inside and make a choice.  A few did linger and look at more than one book, but they were rushed to decide so that they could return to the mat for storytime. 

I wondered how this process could possibly be teaching them library skills.  It was more like a snatch and grab.  I don’t think 4 or 5 is too young to be given the freedom to search amongst the shelves and find their own book.  Sure, sometimes they’ll pick a dud but sometimes they’ll choose something outside the 40 book spectrum that they’ve been offered, a book that may well be the one book they end up loving and that draws them in to reading. 

I’m not sure if it’s just that the teachers don’t have time to clean up the mess that 30 children choosing their own books in a library is bound to involve or if it’s just another example of all the things adults seem to do these days to make life easier for their children by virtually choosing a book for them.  Or perhaps it’s because kids don’t get taken to their local libraries so much any more and therefore they don’t know what to do in a library.  But is pre-selecting the books the best way to show them what to do?

I hope that by next year at least they are given more freedom to explore the library and the books themselves.  I hope that they all get shown how to look at the book cover, how to look inside, how to compare books and how to make a decision so that the library becomes a place of discovery and a place of adventure, rather than just another pre-arranged chore in their school day. 

In the meantime, can I recommend that, if you haven’t taken your kids to your local library for a while, you make a visit?  It’s an especially good rainy day outing and both our local libraries have just got in loads of brand new books.  Yours may have too.  It’s worth a look.


  1. Trish

    It’s a shame how we are not letting children explore and discover these days. This article is just another incident to add to the pile that have been coming into my focus these past few months. Since when did childhood become so structured? How can we get the next Galileo or Einstein if we dont let kids explore and try to do things differently. we have built such a structured sterile environment for them and based on fear.

    We need to let them enmesh themselves in all sorts of different activities without squashing their enthusiasm.

    if we want to save the planet then we need children who are allowed to develop in an open way. Part of that way is to have them feel, smell, read and even taste books. there are some answers from the past to help the future. Let’s give them the chance to do this.

  2. Yes, it really was a library experience without wonder – the kid’s mindsets were not ‘I wonder what I might find’ but rather ‘Let’s get a book before they’re all gone.’ It even led to two girls fighting over a book – I wonder if that would have happened if they’d been free to roam the shelves and choose from the hundreds of books, rather than the 40 books.

    Maybe it’s about trust, and in this case the kids weren’t given enough trust. I’m just glad it’s not the only time my daughter gets to experience a library, I’m glad it’s also something we do together outside the structured school environment.

  3. Trin

    Mmm ….. better do a quick check of the process, my daughter uses to find a book at her school library. Phew… yes they get to go to their section both fiction and non fiction, pick up a book that they think they might like and flick through it and then either choose it or if they don’t like it start again. If they haven’t returned their books on time (through no fault of their own) they even get to book mark a book for next time. Alls well in my world. Now you have just provided me with another reminder that I should be taking my son as it was such a regular event with my eldest, looks like I have an activity for tommorrow.

  4. Trin, hope you got to go to the library on Thursday. I wonder if the library process at my daughter’s school is age related – perhaps they think 4 is too young to be able to choose. But it’s not as if they can make too bad a choice if they are directed to the picture book section – I would have thought that any book they choose from there would be appropriate.
    I like the book marking idea too – might add that to my list of suggestions for the school library!

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