For a Successful School Year…Use That Library Card

Gloria DeGaetanoClarity

A Seattle blizzard is a rare occurrence, so I remember this day very well. Snow blew and fell all night long and we woke up to 2 feet of snow. No school! Excited, my sons then ages 7 and 9, starved for snow as Pacific NW children are, were bundled up ready to venture out before my second cup of coffee. After the serious snowball fight, the creative snow people making and the thrilling sled rides they devoured their sandwiches and sipped their hot chocolate asking , “What’s next, Mommy? What can we do now?”

“Do?” I thought. I was more than eager to un-do. Relaxing and reading by the fire had a nice ring to it. But they would have none of that. Go, Out. Must.

I certainly was not up for any more rough and tumble. So I suggested, “Let’s walk to the library.”

“Yeah!” They responded, always enthusiastic for a library visit and more books. And now double-fun to walk through all the snow! Besides we had a few books to return and the library was a mere 9 blocks away. We could do this!

I’ll never forget trudging along, boots leaking water with every step as we slowly waded in knee-deep snow. Halfway there, out of breath, I had the sinking thought, “What if the library is closed?” I hadn’t thought to check.

But soon enough we saw the welcoming bright lights, lovely comfort on the gray-white afternoon horizon.

My sons dashed to the children’s section and I meandered through the new fiction shelf until a few books reached out and grabbed me. I noticed the boys trying to decide which books they wanted, frustrated that they had to leave some behind. I gently reminded them of the magic word—unlimited. “You can check out as many books as you want, remember?”

I’ll never forget the relieved delight on their faces when this registered.

Trudging home, bogged down with two shopping bags filled with books and two exhausted boys seemed longer than it actually was. Thinking they would curl up and look at these books for hours when we got home kept me going.

And that’s exactly what they did that day and hundreds of other days throughout their childhood and adolescence after as many library trips—curled up with books of all stripes and types for hours.

As an educator and researcher, I understood the interrelatedness between literacy and thinking skills in the human brain. Everyday I thank God for that knowledge and I love passing it on to the parents I work with. I also consider it a great gift I passed on to my sons.

Thanks to the steady stream of books made available through our library system, reading became like the air we breathed—necessary for life.

Life then became increasingly interesting as my sons grew into thoughtful teens and creative, discerning adults. Naturally. Because thinking follows reading—naturally, like breathing supports life, easily without fuss.

What to Read?

We often checked out books that dove-tailed with topics they were studying at school. We made sure we had lots of fun books–adventures, sci-fi, biographies, autobiographies, sports tales. And along with books they could read, I usually brought home coffee table books with stunning photos they could look at and we could all talk about. If you need ideas for appropriate books for your child’s independent reading level, the American Librarian Association offers a comprehensive list of children’s and youth’s award winners usually found on library shelves.

What to Read On?

Often parents think digital books are fine and an adequate replacement for hard copies. Yet the research continues to show that comprehension decreases with digital books. This finding is supported by numerous studies and holds true for students in college, high school and grade school. Dr. Patricia Alexander, a literacy scholar at the University of Maryland and researcher in this field states, “If I’m only trying to learn something that’s going to be covered on a test and the test is shallow in nature, then [digital] is just fine.” Otherwise, to delve more deeply into concepts and patterns in the narrative that will enhance understanding, nothing beats the old-fashioned book.

Since I believe, “You can’t have too many books” a public library is a parent’s BFF for growing smart, curious and imaginative children. Remember the magic word–unlimited–and rejoice!



I lost my library card when my sons left the nest. Maybe out of forgetfulness, maybe out of not wanting to be reminded of all the wonderful library memories.

Ordering books on Amazon became so easy I fell into an awfully expensive habit. Enough already! Recently I made a vow not to buy any more fiction. (Small, but important first step.) I got a new library card and activated it with a flourish by choosing a card design with a studious looking, glasses-wearing dog on it. This was going to be fun!

The first book I checked out was H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. I had vaguely heard about it—but falconry—a goshawk named Mabel, an intellectual daughter grieving over the death of her legend father? Literary writer MacDonald was sure to challenge me. Was I up to this task? I decided to take the plunge—and so glad I did. H is for Hawk rallied my reading confidence while I settled into being a library patron. I treated the book as if my own. I even took the liberty of peeling off the sticker with the library number on it (ever so carefully) and replacing it elsewhere on the cover. Can you imagine some, probably harried and hurried librarian or helper, placed the sticker horizontally right over Mabel the Hawk’s left eye. Sacrilege. My placement worked much better—vertically right alongside Mabel. Now the perspective reader got a much clearer and positive image of our hawk heroine. (I have since taken it upon myself to remove and replace ill fitting code labels on other library books…let’s honor the cover art!)

My second book was Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, which I enjoyed immensely. I still have a few more Ann Patchett novels to go. I feel I owe her reading everything she ever wrote. Years ago, around the time when Bel Canto was published, I met Ann. Well, actually I was introduced to her, but I did not know who she was. I just thought she was someone like the rest of us. Here I am in Nashville entering the hall where I am about to give a seminar on Parenting Well in a Media Age, when my host introduces Ann and her husband who are also headed into the hall to hear me. I shook her hand and we started talking and I asked her what she did. Hesitating she smiled while her husband answered proudly, “Ann’s a novelist” in a voice that meant to add “You dummy.” But he didn’t. I waltzed in, ignorant of the royalty I had just met, gave my talk and it wasn’t until a few weeks later while reading a review of Bel Canto in the New York Times Book Review, it hit me. OMG. I met Ann Patchett and didn’t know who she was. OMG, Ann Patchett heard me speak!

So you can see why I am dedicated to reading everything Ann has ever written—an apology of sorts. But as fate would have it, I love her writing and am always inspired. I just finished This is the Story of a Happy Marriage—a collection of her essays. Highly recommended.

I won’t go on about all the other library books I have checked out since. Suffice it to say: I do love that magic word–unlimited.


Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017.