My students love books about school librarians, especially those that are unconventional – think the protagonist from The Librarian from the Black Lagoon, or Mrs Roopy from the My Weird School series. We often discuss how they would fit in at our library, and whether their methods and quirks would add to or detract from the library program we already have. Strangely, my own reading this summer has also led me to discover some school library-focused books, some of which get every detail of a school librarian’s day correct, and some which…don’t. Below I share some of these titles, as well as some fun independent school-set reads which I have enjoyed this summer. Happy reading, all!
The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms
This novel opens with the main character, Amy Byler, arriving in New York for a conference (not entirely dissimilar to an AISL conference). The details of this school library conference experience are uncannily accurate, and the discussion and details of the topic she is presenting on ring true. However, it veers into ‘really?’ territory when Amy decides to stay in New York for the rest of the summer, effectively abandoning her family in rural Pennsylvania. So, five stars for the first part, but from a library perspective, it really loses its way (doesn’t Amy need to get back home to set up her library for the start of school? What about all those books that have to be cataloged and those displays that have to be created?).
Failed Public Librarian Kendall Dickinson decides she needs a do-over, and takes a job as a librarian at a small North Carolina School. She does not like children, or noise, but figures the job will be a good distraction from her other worries. The usual characters show up: the quirky kid obsessed with reading, the colleagues who nod knowingly across the auditorium during assembly, and the flighty principal who spends more time at the spa than at the school. And of course, there’s a complicated, brooding Kindergarten teacher who makes Kendall’s life more… complicated. The details of the school librarian life are pretty accurate in this novel, but it must be said that if you don’t like children or noise then this probably isn’t the profession for you.
What You Wish For by Katherine Center
Katherine Center was due to be the Skip Anthony speaker at our conference in Houston, and I would have love to have heard about her research and her perspective on school librarians! This novel features Sam, librarian at the Kempner School on Galveston Island, TX. After a tragedy involving the long-standing principal, a new principal is appointed who Sam knows from her previous school (well, you know how everyone in independent schools knows each other). But on the first day of school, Duncan Carpenter is not the man Sam remembers. The details of the school librarian’s life are accurate, and her observations of young readers (and their over-invested parents) are spot-on. In particular, the description of the library is wonderful, and I would love to know if this is based on a real school!
The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson
OK – no school libraries in this one, but the main character is an elementary art teacher, and her best friend is the school librarian. When her local public library closes, Dodie decides to open a replacement in her home’s sunroom. As the members of the town pass through, picking up books and sharing their secrets with Dodie, it becomes clear that the town misses not only its books but the sense of community that the library brought. There is a subplot involving Dodie’s ticking biological clock, and to be honest, the way in which Dodie ran the library made me feel a bit anxious; thankfully, no one suggests that she leaves her art classroom and heads to the school library instead.
In addition to these books about libraries, I’ve also read three great books set in schools this summer. In The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger, four families will do anything to get their child into an elite new school for the very gifted & talented. Anything. In Tiny Imperfections by Alli Frank & Asha Youmans, we meet Josie Bordelon, admissions director at the exclusive Fairchild Country Day School in San Francisco, CA. You will not believe (well, maybe you will) the tactics used by parents to gain a coveted spot at this school. The story also focuses on Josie’s aunt, one of the longest-serving kitchen workers at the school, and her daughter, Etta, who is a senior and has very specific ideas about where she wants to go for college. Finally, Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes is a wonderful novel by Kathleen West, an Independent School teacher here in Minnesota. This book is a fast-paced read about helicopter parents, social media and what it’s like to teach in an elite high school bubble, where the teachers are mostly liberal, and the parents are mostly not…
If you’ve read something good recently, school-related or not, leave a comment! And I’m looking forward to the first school-related novel featuring COVID-19: “She opened up her computer and logged on to her Google Meet. There were three students there already…”
These all sound wonderful! There is already a genre dedicated to independent bookstores. Maybe there are now enough stories about independent school libraries to create another category.
BTW, having retired last June, I want to salute all you dedicated librarians who have been going above and beyond all year. I offer best wishes as you begin what appears to be an even more challenging year. You take the prize for flexibility and perseverance in difficult times.
Thanks, Allison! It’s certainly a good time to be enjoying your retirement!
These reviews are profound and hilarious. You should be reviewing books for NPR or The New Yorker where the readers would appreciate your wry humor and knowledge of the topic. School librarians playing the protagonist, a new sub-genre worth reading. I can’t wait to talk to you after reading a few of these titles. Thank you for suggesting some fun titles and adding amusement and a distraction for these stress filled pandemic days.
Happy reading, Cathy! Thanks for your kind comment!
These are great, Claire! It’s also worth noting that the narrator of Jenny Offill’s new novel, Weather, is a librarian (and graduate school drop out) whose research skills drive the plot and her unsettling discoveries about climate change.
Added to my list – thanks, Laurie!
Thanks for sharing this list, Claire! They are so fun and I am grateful that I have these to put on my “to read” list.
Thanks, Traci. Happy reading!
What a wonderful post – thank you for lifting my spirits, Claire! Shockingly, I hadn’t heard of any of these, so I am super excited to seek them out. One note regarding your intro to Kendall Dickinson – I was actually very nervous about working with teenagers when I accepted my position at my current school. In my previous public library life, one of my responsibilities was dealing with kids smoking at the entrance, swearing in the stacks – I didn’t get much of a chance to get to know them. I’m so glad that I took the leap – fortunately, it turned out that I’m a big fan of teenagers!!
They are lucky to have YOU! Happy reading!
That’s fun. Who knew “we” were so interesting!!
Thanks Claire, these sound good! School librarians pop up in YA fiction quite a lot. I cheer out loud when they’re portrayed as smart, caring, helpful adults and groan when they’re grumpy shushers.