Curating Books for Your Kid

Library pick-up days are my favorite days. Photo by Derrick Schneider

We all want to give our kids access to great books. But if you’re like me, you don’t always have the time to sit in the library for a few hours perusing and culling books to take home.

Why not just let your kid choose? You absolutely should. My daughter loves doing this at the library. But she plucks books off the shelf with no judgement based on criteria only she knows. Quality varies.

Why not just ask the librarian? Again, you absolutely should and we absolutely do. But it’s a bit like turning on a firehose, and when I do it, I invariably find that I’ve forgotten to ask about a book or a topic that was on my mind.

So over the last couple of years, I’ve streamlined a system that works well for our family. It doesn’t take very much time, despite what people think when they hear about it, and it ensures a steady supply of quality, enjoyable books.

Creating the Backlog

This is the main step. And it’s the most work. But, happily, it’s also the most fun. You learn about books! What could be better? Find reviewers whose tastes you agree with. There are great reviewers all over this site, but I also subscribe to The Horn Book and listen to the All The Wonders podcast. I also stumble on various curated lists from time to time.

I skim through these sources and find books I think my daughter will enjoy. I go to, pull up the book’s page, and put the page into Evernote using their excellent web clipper plugin. I put all the library books I want to find into a single notebook, tagging them with my daughter’s name as well as the source (in theory, so I can assess a source over time; this has never happened).

You don’t need to use Evernote for this, obviously. But you do want it somewhere where it’s easy to pull up.

The Library
The library part of my system starts well before the library visit. Whenever I think of it — usually once every week or so — I skim through the backlog I’ve created and tag some books with “shortlist.” Usually this is because they’re suddenly relevant to our daughter’s interests and life. For instance, she’s started reading on her own a fair amount, and so early readers get shortlisted. Her math skills are far along, so books featuring numbers have started getting the tag. Again, if you’re using some other system, you just need a way to denote these. A star in your bullet journal list, maybe.

A bit more than a week before I plan to visit the library, I pull up my shortlisted books, login to the library’s website, and take around fifteen minutes to request holds on some of them. This gives enough time for them to be transferred to the branch where I pick up, but also makes sure the holds aren’t canceled because they sit out too long. Since I have to walk the books home, I put 6–10 books on hold. I keep about 30 books in my short list, out of a few hundred in the full backlog, so the website visit is efficient and quick.

On library day, I stop by the branch before work. My job is flexible enough to allow this, but libraries seem to have at least one day where they’re open later if that works better. Or you could aim to pick up on a weekend day if weekdays are too tightly scheduled.

But here’s the point to remember: Because all the books I want are on hold and waiting for me, I spend about five minutes in the branch itself.

After the Library
Once I’ve checked out the books, I move them to yet another Evernote notebook. That not only keeps them out of sight, it gives a nice list to look through when it’s time to give presents.

I also cancel any holds that didn’t make it to the shelves. If I don’t do this, I inevitably get a note three days later that some book has just shown up, and I feel compelled to go get it.

What systems do you use? Let us know in the comments.

Extra Tips

  • In my area, there are special children’s library cards that allow you to put more books on hold, check out more books, and avoid paying late fees. Ask your librarian if they have something similar.
  • In my area at least, you can qualify for a library card as long as you can visit a branch. I’ve never lived in San Francisco, but I have a library card for the system and, since I work there, that’s where I pick up my daughter’s books. Make sure you understand your own library system’s requirements.
  • Don’t forget about interlibrary loans! They will take longer to get and may have tighter constraints, but if you really want a particular book, they can be a way to get it.
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