Our book today is Sarah Stewart’s merry, winsome 1995 Caldecott-winning children’s book The Library, about a little girl named Elizabeth Brown who starts reading as soon as she can and then continues doing it ‘at an incredible rate’ for the rest of her life. She reads under the covers at night. She reads on the porch while other kids are heading to the playground. When she goes off to school, she piles books on her top bunk until it breaks.
Preferred a book
To going on a date.
While friends went out
And danced till dawn,
She stayed up reading late.
Later in life, with a house of her own (one rapidly filling with books and cats), she’ll walk into walls while cleaning, because she’s got her nose buried in a book. Stacks of books take the place of end-tables and fascinate her visitors. When she goes to town for groceries, her list is carefully tucked in a book – and stays there, as she walks out without half the things she needs. It hardly matters anyway, since the only thing she really wants to shop for in town is books.
Books were piled on top of chairs
And spread across the floor.
Her shelves began to fall apart,
As she read more and more.
She lives a blissful life – and in David Small’s gorgeous, playfully suggestive illustrations, we see her gently aging as the piles of books grow and the cats come and go. The drawings glow with a bookworm’s delight: the books bristle with multiple bookmarks, and they’re piled neatly but not so neatly – they’re obviously more loved than categorized.
But eventually, Elizabeth Brown runs into the problem that waits for all bookworms:
When volumes climbed the parlor walls
And blocked the big front door,
She had to face the awful fact
She could not have one more.
She doesn’t meander around the problem – she walks straight up to it with her usual forthrightness. She goes to town, visits City Hall, and makes out a bit of paperwork:
The form was for donations.
She quickly wrote the line:
“I, E. Brown, give to the town
All that was ever mine.”
The town builds the Elizabeth Brown Free Library, and that’s where her collection – minus the cats – goes. Small’s lovely art shows many grateful patrons, each now with their nose in a book just like their benefactor. Elizabeth herself moves in with a friend, and they live ‘to a ripe old age’ visiting the library over and over again. It’s an utterly winning little look at how books can take over the lives of the people who fall prey to their allures – and how those people can be improved by the process. Most personal book collections aren’t lucky enough to enjoy the afterlife given to Elizabeth Brown’s – most of them scatter to the four winds (or to the Brattle Bookshop, which acts as a clearing house for the four winds). But The Library lets its young readers – and its older ones – smile and dream about a life lived entirely in books.