Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Creating a library space for children

I am a fairly simple person in my material desires. I don't crave lots of possessions or fancy clothes or a flash car or a pristine perfect mansion to live in. I don't see the point, or frankly the morality, of accruing more money than you need to support yourself and your family and provide a little for a rainy day (it is that impetus against surplus wealth that fuels what my husband wryly refers to as "Kathy's give-it-away-and I-mean-today philosophy of charity donation".)

I do, of course, have a major weakness though, and it is one shared by my entire not particularly materialistic clan.


Books of every kind, every shape, every tenor and tone.

Beautiful books and plain books, bestsellers and greats, classics and new finds, potboilers and cosies, science fiction and poetry.

The urge to acquire books (not just to read them), to treasure them and re-read them and lend them and trade them, is pretty deeply entrenched in all of us. My parents have two and half rooms filled with books at their large rambling house near the hills. My brother, otherwise one of the most spartan people I know (his entire wardrobe fits easily into a suitcase), has books stacked ceiling height in his rental property and several crates worth still in storage. My husband and I have added one new bookcase to our furniture roughly every 1.5 years of our married life (now 12 years in total). And my girls, oh, they are *all* about the book collecting too. They love books, love to revisit them, to get to know them, to become friends with them and to link arms with the world of the text anew.

So, we have books. Lots and lots of books. What we don't have, really, is lots and lots of *space*. We live in a house with three smallish bedrooms (the 7 and 5 year olds share one, the baby shares the other with two chests of drawers and - quel surprise - two bookcases) and there is no really obviously suitable space in the open-plan living area for books, at least not in the quantities we're describing here.

Over half my adult books are in storage at the moment as we search for a more long-term solution to our book dilemma, but it was very important, I felt, that the girls were able to have ready and inviting access to their books, to feel like they could make a little world within their books and have a basic reading space to do so.

The solution we devised - and it *is* a make-do, imperfect one - was to turn the hallway, which runs the length of the house and is quite wide, into a library of sorts. At the moment the library space is shared with the baby's change table, but as she's 16 months old and wriggly as all get-out, that's unlikely to be an impediment much longer. (When we move to changing her on the floor, I'll replace the change table with another bookcase, of course ;-)

The left side of the hallway is shelves filled with adult books, but the right side has been designated as the children's library. The key features of this are:

1. The books are all arranged at reaching-height for the 5 and 7 year olds.

2. The books are sorted into series or type where applicable (eg Famous Five, fairies, Trixie Belden, Mr Men, Golden Books, Charlie & Lola books, Disney books). This makes it easy for the girls to find what they are looking for if they have a fancy for a particular title or style of text.

3. Where they are not part of a series, the books are sorted by author (eg Pamela Allen books, Mem Fox books).

4. Where they are one-offs, the books are sorted by theme / the children's classification. (For instance, they have a small section that they've decided is for "books about nature with real facts in the stories", and another that's for "books that are funny.") They understand their system perfectly and reshelve appropriately!

5. Baby books, which are often oddly shaped and too small to fit comfortably on already crowded shelving, are stored in a large cane basket on top of one of the shelves. This makes it easy to grab a handful to read to the 16-month-old without disrupting the flow of the shelving too much.

6. Finally, we placed a small cane reading chair opposite the shelving. It might look very spartan in the picture, but I couldn't count the number of times I've found one of the girls (including the 16-month-old!) curled up perusing a book on it.

One of the things I'm considering as the kids get older and have more books is getting ceiling-height built-in shelving in the hallway with a rolling library ladder, to make it truly a "long library". For now, though, I think it works alright for the girls - their little makeshift library world.


  1. Bliss, bliss, bliss..... I dream of having walls filled with bookshelves and books just like your house and am slowing "sneaking" more bookshelves into our house. My husband's solution is to get rid of some books, mine is more bookshelves. I can easily cull most things but not books. I am loving being able to revisit my childhood books with my son. I am so glad that my mum kept them for me and I ,in turn, will keep Hugh's for him and hopefully his children :-)

  2. I was seriously gobsmacked (and delighted) to see such an amazing book collection! We don't keep many books due to our constant house moves, so it was just such a lovely view on another world to see your house!