Text copyright © Katie Mohar. All rights reserved.
Books bring adventure, imagination and discovery into a home. A common question I hear is: “How do you make a home library for kids?” Today, I share how to begin building a children’s home library that your family will treasure for years to come.
You don’t need an interior decorator or a large budget to build a warm and inviting children’s library. (Although a lavish library would be a splendid project if a long-lost relative bequeaths you their estate!) All you need is a desire to inspire a love of reading in the kids you love.
Let’s get started!
Basics of Building a Children’s Home Library
What does every children’s home library need?
LIBRARIAN: That’s you! A secret ingredient to getting kids excited about books is regular read-aloud story time. Struggling readers often don’t pick up books on their own, unless to toss them aside. These kids benefit from an adult showing them that books are fun.
True story: As a boy, one of my brothers hated reading books. Every night at bedtime, my mom read adventurous books out-loud. He loved hearing these stories. Slowly, he developed a fondness for books.
By the time my brother was in his 20s, he was officially obsessed with books. He and I were roommates for five years. Boxes of new books addressed to my brother regularly arrived at our door.
One day, several long and heavy boxes arrived. “What are those?” I asked, wondering if I should hail the delivery driver and say he’d conveyed packages to the wrong address. “Bookshelves!” my brother exclaimed. Soon, we had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (loaded with books) lining nearly every empty wall of our apartment!
Moral of the story: never give up on a struggling reader. They may simply need a good “librarian.” If a child is lying in bed listening to a book being read to them, it makes their imagination work in ways that a screen won’t. To learn what types of books will excite a middle-grade reader, check out my three-step test.
SPACE: You don’t need much. Be as generous as possible while keeping in mind that a library should be cozy. If you own five children’s books, start with a nook. As your collection grows, assign more real estate to your library. Short on space? Get creative and transform a closet or a cupboard into a kid-sized library! (Ensure any small, enclosed space is kid-safe.)
LIGHTING: A mix of both natural lighting for daytime reading (and nighttime dreaming or stargazing) and high-quality artificial lighting is ideal. Go for soft, warm lighting over harsh, excessively-intense lighting. Be sure the room is bright enough so children won’t strain their eyes to read.
VARIETY: Owning children’s books in diverse genres is essential to raising well-rounded readers. Aim for a solid mix of: mystery, adventure, history, poetry, fantasy, fairytale, folklore, mythology, humor and kid-oriented educational non-fiction.
FURNISHINGS: Create an inviting ambiance with simple accessories like a throw blanket and comfortable chairs or cushions – without making the area so comfortable that a child or parent will fall asleep. Add a pleasant plant like a succulent, vine or peace lily. Hang colorful paintings on the wall that spark a child’s imagination – even when their eyes wander from the page.
Budgeting: Adopt an Investor’s Mindset
Building a children’s home library doesn’t need to break the bank. Fancy shelves are unnecessary. All you need is a few bookends located in a central place designated for books.
However, committing to building a quality personal library often requires adjusting our mindset to view books as long-term assets rather than transient toys. Books are wise investments in a child’s long-term future that can pay themselves back in metaphorical gold.
New books compare in price to what we may otherwise spend on a fast-food treat. Whereas ice cream will disappear in minutes and soon be forgotten, stories change a child forever.
Unlike some assets, books are highly accessible investments for families of nearly all income levels. A child in a low-income home that frequently reads books can easily outperform a child who, despite growing up in a wealthy home, never develops a love for reading.
Prioritize Quality Texts Over Impressive Design
Prioritize acquiring quality books – and taking time to read quality books – over the library’s “design.” Plus, books double as beautiful décor that is highly functional.
Remember, a book on a shelf is a book that’s not being read. Another family’s home may have a more beautiful-looking library. But if no one is reading the books, who cares?
Get your child reading now, even if you need to temporarily store the books in a cardboard box. Your goal is to create a home environment where—if you open your child’s bedroom door—you have at least a 30% chance of seeing your child curled up with their nose in a book.
This goal may sound unreachable if the current odds of seeing a child voluntarily reading are 0%. Keep hope. Kids don’t fall in love with reading overnight. Reading requires developing patience. Fortunately, once kids fall in love with books it’s typically hard to pull them away.
Just as a gardener doesn’t immediately see benefits from fertilizing, watering and tending plants—a parent won’t immediately see benefits from surrounding a child with books. Like a sunflower in sunshine and fertile soil, a child exposed to books will grow much faster than a child without such fortune.
With each new high-quality book your child hears and reads, you are nourishing their imagination, creativity, compassion, language and writing skills in the same way that a careful gardener tends beloved plants.
When your child grows into adulthood, they will treasure these same books with their children.
SIMPLE SWAPS: What are grandparents, aunts and uncles gifting your child? Families will find that by encouraging friends and relatives to swap birthday and holiday gifts of toys for gifts of books, a home library quickly grows.
Embracing Local Libraries
I encourage families to utilize local libraries while also making books a permanent fixture at home.
A permanent home library helps show your kids that you value reading. By keeping books on-hand, you can also seize serendipitous moments. If a child feels compelled to read at 8:00 pm and the library is closed, no sweat. You’ve got books!
Kids like to think that reading a particular book is their idea, even if you’re the one who deserves credit for making the book accessible. As a girl, I “discovered” many wonderful books by inspecting my parents’ bookshelves. I may never have read these books if my parents hadn’t wisely placed them within easy reach. I didn’t ask – I just read. In contrast, if my mom had pointedly suggested the same books during one of our regular library visits, I would have been less intrigued.
Ultimately, kids need physical books. A public library is a great resource for augmenting a personal home collection, but not a replacement.
The Secret to Building a Child’s Home Library
The ultimate secret to a successful home library is time. You’ll need to consistently dedicate time to reading books together as a family, and individually.
Seize today. Take one small step toward reading more as a family—even if it’s as simple as reading “Page One.” Tomorrow, commit to reading “Page Two.” Before you know it, a good story will have you in its grip and you will hardly notice you’re at “The End.”
“Time is the one resource that you cannot buy or replace. It’s yours to choose however you use. Choose well.” – Harvey Mackay
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