Last week, while sifting through the photos stored on my laptop, I found this:

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

That’s Lydia. The one that turns seven next week. I went through the usual shock and aww that accompanies a discovery like that, from “Really? She was ever that small?” to “Oh, the cheeks!”, and as I moved from one photo to the next it occurred to me that you might be interested in these photos, not because they cause you to meditate on the rapid passage of time (though they may affect you that way if you’ve seen Lydia lately), but because they are from the day we built ourselves a library and named Lydia head librarian.

little-book-big-story-cardboard-library (7)

I suppose this is a picture of one way that we have made books a part of the daily fabric of our family life: we play with them as well as read them, and share them with each other in inventive, quirky ways.

We had received a library kit as a gift not long before those photos were taken. It came with Ex Libris tags, a date stamp, and a small notebook, and for the longest time, I wasn’t sure what to do with it—we had more books than Ex Libris tags, and I have no desire to loan books out with due dates—but then we received a box of old books from a friend and those books, that kit, and a big box left over from a move combined to make a trifecta of creative play. We made library cards for the family, tucked tags in the front of each book, and Lydia’s shift began.

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

How to Play Librarian, or "A DIY Cardboard Library for the Ages" | Little Book, Big Story

So, how do you play librarian? It has less to do with the way you build a cardboard desk and more to do with how you view books. We have always kept our books within our children’s reach, and while that costs us some book covers when we have a toddler in the house, that price is worth the sense of ownership our girls feel when they browse the bookshelves of our home. They learn to respect books, yes, but better yet, they learn to value them for what they contain—not just for how they look on the shelves.

I grew up with that sense of ownership: my dad gave us free access to his books (and I mean free: when given the opportunity to choose my own subject for a book report, I once went my dad’s bookshelves and selected Bimbos of the Death Sun. It’s a pity I can’t remember how my teacher graded that paper) and so I always knew where to go when I needed something new to read—and who to ask if I needed help finding it.

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

We want our kids to be comfortable with our family’s books and so we carefully curate a library that we can share with them. We want them to feel free to read and touch and explore and play with the books we collectively own, and I have visions of watching them, nearly grown, browse the shelves, looking for something good to read. I will probably hover conspicuously in the background and ask (the way I do to my husband whenever he glances toward a bookshelf), “Can I help you find something?”

That is how I play librarian.

But better still, I have visions of watching my daughters pass books to each other, asking, “Have you read this one yet? You’ll love it.” And that is why I gave our daughters a box of old books to stamp and share at whim.

How to Play Librarian, or "A DIY Cardboard Library for the Ages" | Little Book, Big Story

Librarian turned out to be an enduring game and it’s one that Lydia asks to play every so often, in part because we keep those old books with the library kit (it’s still around, on a shelf in their bedroom) and I know she’d like to read them again, and in part because she just loves playing Librarian.

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

Gunner covers Lydia’s lunch shift

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