Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Matisse Lorance Berthiaume started a book exchange group to offer her 2.5 year old daughter a variety of children's picture books.

How to find kids’ books while public libraries stay closed

Creative ideas on how to share books

If you’re anything like my family, you’ve really missed the library and are excited to see signs of reopening, so we can find new kids’ books. Starting July 15, we’ll be able to place new holds at the King County Libraries, and pick books up without going into the building. Seattle Public Library is setting up a similar system.

In the meantime, my family turns to technology and local bookstore purchases, and coming back again and again to the “Dog Man” and “Captain Underpants” books we checked out before the lockdown.

Here are some creative things parents have done to find kids’ books.

Join the Facebook Buy Nothing community

Reading a book from our Buy Nothing stash

Buy Nothing groups are in most cities in the Seattle area. People donate bundles of literature ranging from board books to adult fiction. Most are ready for porch pick-up the same day. We’ve been lucky to pick up hard-to-find Marvel comic books and a series of original Curious George books, all for free! After pick-up I sanitize the books with wipes and drop them in a bag, store in a closet for a few days, then give them to my kids for a reading retreat.

Create book bags to trade with neighbors

A variety of books for the neighborhood book bags

Mukta Mann teaches 6th grade at Cedar Valley Community School in the Edmonds School District. She’s been making book bags for children in her neighborhood, rotating them on as she gets them back. Mann borrows from other teachers and purchases Scholastic Books with neighborhood parents. She fills paper bags with a mixture of fiction, non-fiction and picture books. Each one set to a specific reading level. Mann drops them off at doorsteps or coordinates pick-up with families. “It’s nothing fancy, just a grocery bag full of books,” Mann said. “I cannot reiterate the importance of having a physical book.”

Install a Little Free Library in your neighborhood and clean out your shelves

Little Library in Kirkland

Kelli Curtis built a Little Free Library in her Kirkland neighborhood, complete with hand sanitizer, when she heard about closures. “My kids are now young adults so we have a house full of children’s and young adult novels. It’s a joy to give these away,” shared Curtis. Little Free Libraries are found all over the Seattle area. You can buy library stand kits from the Little Free Library website. If you build your own, you can register it (for a minimum of $39.95), so people can find it on the website.

Start a book club to read books you would have passed on before

Oliver and friends read novels and discuss the books over their weekly online meetings

Mei-Sin Kong, who lives in South Bothell, started a book club with her son Oliver. Oliver and his fellow 5th grade classmates choose a book and meet three times a week, over Zoom, to talk about it. Among the books they’ve read: “The Bridge Home” and “The Mysterious Benedict Society.” “My son has always loved reading, but only books that he likes. But this book club encourages him to read books that he normally wouldn’t read,” said Kong.

Fairs at home and a bookmobile

Front yard book fair complete with reading buddies

When the libraries closed, Heather Heavener Card’s family cleaned out their bookshelves, wiped them down, and set up a book fair in their front yard. They gave out children’s picture books, board books, and young adult novels. The book fair also had stuffies, calling them “reading buddies” for young readers to practice with an audience.

Books to browse on the bookmobile

After the book fair, Heather started a bookmobile service for families in the Northshore Family Partnership Program. “I wanted to make sure that any child without access to an electronic device is still able to access new reading,” said Card.

Card loads her SUV with books that her family cleared from their own shelves. She accepts trades and donations and has a schedule of meeting places where she can hand out books while staying physically distant. She sanitizes books with wipes and then stores them in the garage for a few days before putting them on the bookmobile shelves.

Social media groups help find books

Matisse Lorance Berthiaume of the Bryant/Ravenna neighborhood had memorized all her two-and-half-year-old daughter’s books, and was feeling the need for something else to read. She decided to form a Facebook group: Seattle Kids Books- Give Get Buy. More than 250 people have joined, and they share resources and books for children of all ages. “While online books have been a wonderful resource, for my daughter’s age , being able to turn off the computer screen and allow her to explore books on her own has been incomparable,” said Berthiaume.

Help for families in need

Natalie Kinsinger’s organization, ChildStrive, drops off books, food, technology, and other basic necessities to families in need. “The closing of the libraries has heavily impacted families, particularly families that are severely under-resourced,” said Kinsinger, “Many of the families we serve do not have a supply of books at home, so the libraries are very important.” ChildStrive depends on community donations to help meet the need in North King and Snohomish Counties.

King County Library System (KCLS) has book drops open for people to return their books. Select libraries will have ‘Curbside to Go’ pickup for anyone who had holds at the time of closure.

KCLS states that new holds can be placed and picked up starting July 15 at select libraries with the possibility of more libraries open to this option at a later date.

All due dates have been extended to July 15, 2020 and the library will waive all late fees accrued during the closure (March 1-September 30).

The Seattle Public Library System has a similar plan (yet to be announced) and hopes to see patrons in person, at a limited capacity, beginning in phase 3.

Even though it is closed. Seattle Public Library is still holding its summer reading program. Check it out here: Seattle Public Library launches Summer of Learning Program for 2020.

About the Author

Jasmin Thankachen

Jasmin is an Eastside mom of two boys, 6 and 8, and enjoys parenting with much grace and lots of laughter. She worked in broadcast television for many years and later moved on to various non-profits and then co-founded PopUp StoryWalk. Now, she is a staff member at Seattle's Child. She loves picture books, essay writing, and community stories. One day she hopes to publish her own storybook for children.