Some of my most popular photographs on Instagram are pictures of our little boho apartment library, and lately I've been getting lots of questions about it – which children's books are our favorites, where I bought my vintage rugs, how I encourage reading time, that sort of thing. Today on the blog, join me and K-6 Librarian and kid's book author Carter Higgins as we share some tips for creating your own welcoming, inclusive, cozy home library space that will help promote a love of reading and open the doors of conversation about the world we live in.
Designate a READING NOOK in your home. It doesn't need to be big! You don't need an entire playroom. We're a family of four + a dog living in a 900(ish)-square foot apartment in Manhattan. Work with what you've got. If your vision is a library that rivals the one in Beauty and the Beast, then go for it. For us, we dedicated a linear section behind the couch along the windows for our little library. This zone gets lots of natural light, so it's bright and cheerful, and doubles as a play area with age-appropriate toys. For other families, a little home library might be a space in the child's bedroom, or a nook under the stairs, or a corner of the family room. But it should be safe, accessible, welcoming, and well lit.
Line the space with LOW BOOKSHELVES. This isn't the place for some tall piece of furniture that's a tipping hazard. Get down on the ground and ensure your child will be able to reach all the books. See what's positioned at their eye level. The shelves will serve as book organization, of course, but much more than that –– they will be a secure home for stories that will become a beloved part of your little one's childhood. Kids should be able to comb through the shelves to find their favorites and discover something new and wonderful (so be sure the books aren't packed too tightly into each shelf). "Think about how you browse for books at a bookstore or library—I'd bet that the face-out books grab your attention the most, right?" says Carter. "It's the same for kids. In my school library, the books that circulate the most are the ones that are easy to spot and easy to grab. And when you rotate through faves in your collection, you're constantly highlighting something fresh that feels new. It's a nice trick!" The white bookshelves in my apartment (pictured in these photos) are from Way Basics – they're cheap and modular, and the perfect height for storing and displaying children's books, and the corners don't feel sharp to the touch. I think a creative person could do some really cool things with upcycling cardboard boxes, too. In our home, as we have two children under the age of five but with different needs and interests, we usually keep the baby board books on the lowest shelf, and more advanced picture books higher up.
Make the space COMFORTABLE & COZY. This should be a place where your family wants to flop on the floor. Layer up those textiles! A soft rug, plush pillows, a fleece blanket – if it feels safe and happy and magical and wonderful, it will be a little library where the whole family wants to spend their time. (My favorite vintage rugs are from Kat + Maouche, Semikah Textiles, Coco Carpets, and Flea Market Fab. On a budget? Target has a great selection of textiles too, and check out Etsy shops to support small businesses!). Libraries often have a deep sensory connection to people – the spring of joy when you recognize the cover of a beloved book, the familiar sound when you turn a page, how the pages smell, the magic of listening to words read aloud and piecing together an unfolding narrative. For me, I wanted to incorporate all the senses into our little home library. I want my children to hear me reading aloud to them, and often, to hear our voices in an open and loving conversation, and, if they want to have quiet time and play with their toys, I sometimes play this story time podcast. Our apartment is often hot (we can't control the temperature) so we sometimes crack open the windows (they all have strong height-limiting locks on them, per city regulations of course), so the temperature is comfortable, and we have lots of cozy spots to curl up with a good book. I used to have rugs that shed all the time and drove us crazy so I invest in some beautiful vintage textiles that we adore, and a double sheepskin rug that is so soft to the touch – and here's a little secret: there are foam camping mats underneath these rugs pictured, so they're extra comfy to lay on! I am big with essential oils/aromatherapy, so I have a diffuser often running, and some of our favorites to diffuse around the kids are Lavender, Cedarwood, and Gathering, which are all so calming and lovely (you can learn more about oils and buy them here.) We have all the kids books within reach, and one of the things I do weekly is rotate them around in our home library, switching up the titles on display, and introducing new books for us to read together. This helps create a fresh, stimulating experience for my son when it's time for him to go pick out books to read. Something new or familiar always catches his eye, and it's an ongoing opportunity for us to talk about important subjects, such as diversity and inclusion, tolerance, empathy, manners, religion, and topics that are relevant to a specific time and place, such as the first day of preschool or animals that hibernate or planting a garden.
Most importantly, invest in WONDERFUL, DIVERSE, BEAUTIFUL, BOOKS. Evaluate the suitable reading level for your child. Right now, our home library is a mix of board books, picture books, more advanced picture books, some early readers and chapter books. My children can't read themselves, but my son recognizes letters and is working on words. The Children's Book Council (CBC) has a great list of age-appropriate titles, if you need ideas. Be sure to buy and read books by marginalized authors, books about other places in the world, books written by and featuring characters that might look or be or live differently than your family. I love this quote by author Ellen Oh on Epic Reads: "All people need to be exposed to other races and other cultures in positive ways. All people need to learn tolerance and acceptance of differences. When we promote only a homogeneous view of society in our literature, and deem books about minorities as unsuccessful, it harms everyone. But worse, we fail in our duty to educate and inspire the minds of our children." Amen to that! Also invest in books on a variety of topics, books that on subjects that interest your child specifically (my son is really into cars and robots, for example), non-fiction books (such as animals, seasons, holidays) and age-appropriate children's magazines. "And don't worry too much when your child wants to try something above his or her level," advises children's librarian Carter Higgins. "Kids are super at self-regulating if something gets too hard or too scary, and they are quick to put one book down in favor of another. This is what readers do, and it's okay! All reading is good reading. Comic books, cereal boxes, magazine subscriptions—whatever it is, fill your home with lots of text options. Let books be as easy to spot as toys and games and other collections you already have." Ready to make your book wishlist? Here's the ALA'S round-up of Notable Children's Books in 2016.
Since my one year old is almost always with me during the day, we are constantly reading and playing in this little library zone. And as part of our daily bedtime routine with our son (he's almost five and in preK full time) we read 3-5 stories. He usually picks them out, and sometimes I have a vote :) We treasure this special time together and I'm always amazed at the conversations and questions that spring from our special reading time.
BUY, BORROW, SHARE & GIVE BOOKS! It's okay if you don't have an unlimited budget to buy books (although support your local brick-and-mortar bookstore whenever you can!). Be a regular patron at your local library and ask the librarian for book suggestions (added tip: place a basket on one end of your little library to house and keep an eye on library-owned books so they don't get lost – We use a vintage straw basket I found at a flea market). "It shouldn't come as a surprise that librarians love talking about books," says Carter. "Ask them about their favorites or if they know of any local author events. Attending a story time or author book signing is a wonderful family outing and brings book joy to life." You can also do a search for a Little Free Library near you – We had one near our old residence, and it was wonderful. Don't have one? You can start one! Attend book fairs and visit local bookstores (used bookshops too!). Launch a book-swap with friends, and share your "book wishlist" with loved ones for birthday and holiday gifts! If you've got lots of books at home, or some extra funds, consider donating books to your local library, little free library, and schools to share the love of reading!
Need some ideas for what book to read next? Check out the We Need Diverse Books website, this blog post on books that promote kindness, and more great recs. Be sure to check out one of Carter's favorite websites, All the Wonders, which features an ongoing celebration of books and the incredible things inside them!
Have more ideas for creating a wonderful children's library space at home? Want to recommend a favorite kid's book? Share about your special family reading time? Drop a note in the comments :)
And stay tuned for a very special Q&A post with librarian and author Carter Higgins about her middle grade debut, A RAMBLER STEALS HOME, which releases on February 28th! Big thank you to Carter for sharing her wisdom for this post.