In Praise of Random Search . . . plus a Random Giveaway

Quick! Where’s the nearest library?

One of the more believable plot points in a recent, not-so-believable disaster movie was the notion that a group of survivors fleeing imminent doom might seek refuge within the halls of the New York Public Library. Lofty-columned civic monuments or modest suburban storefronts, public libraries are natural havens. There’s something cozy and reassuring about being surrounded by so many books. And all that accumulated wisdom comes in handy if you’re faced with saving humanity from total destruction.

Of course, a library is just a great place to hang out on a lazy Saturday, too — when the only immediate threat to humanity is the brain-wilting heat of late summer.

Okay, but they made me turn off my smartphone . . .

No problem. Safe in the blessedly conditioned air of your local library, put thoughts of global catastrophe aside and indulge in some old-fashioned, non-virtual, random browsing. Be your own search engine, powered by whatever internal algorithm causes you to reach for one book over the other. Is it a keyword in the title? (“Ghost” gets me every time.) A picture of a horse on the jacket? A funky typeface? Are you partial to chubby books . . . or skinny ones? Treasures await!

It was the colorful jacket that drew me as a child to one particular treasure: The 21 Balloons, by William Pène du Bois. These were the days before publishers started stamping gold and silver medallions on book covers — I didn’t realize The 21 Balloons had won the Newbery Medal (in 1948). It was a book I had found on my own. My discovery. That’s the real joy of random browsing.

Focus. I need focus.

So, what if you’re uncomfortable with all this randomness? I’m glad you asked! Although if you are (or used to be) the kind of geeky kid I was, the answer should be obvious: a library scavenger hunt!

Think of it as a set of search parameters. Give yourself some instructions to follow, and see what you find. My ten “rules” are listed below. Feel free to use those, or make up your own. I staked out the Juvenile (middle-grade) fiction section as my territory — nothing beats good ol’ alpha-by-author for ensuring a healthy mix of subject matter and genre. And remember, you don’t have to start with “A” and work your way through the stacks . . . unless you want to.

There are no correct answers; everyone’s collection of finds will be different. But there will be a winner! Keep reading for details about the Random Giveaway — and happy scavenging!

Middle-Grade Fiction Scavenger Hunt
1. Find a book whose author’s first name begins with the same letter as yours.
My find: Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, by Bruce Colville.
2. Find a shelf less than half full and pick the third book from the left.
My find: Nerd No More, by Kristine L. Franklin.
3. Pick a shelf at random and look for the shortest book on the shelf.
My find: The Puppeteer’s Apprentice, by D. Anne Love
4. Find a book with the word “secret” in the title.
My find: The Secret of Platform 13, by Eva Ibbotson.
5. Find a book featuring one of your favorite characters; pick the book to its left.
Character: Pippi Longstocking; my find: The Year of the Rat, by Grace Lin.
6. Find a book with the word “dog” in the title and pick the book to its right.
My find: The Legend of Thunderfoot, by Bill Wallace.
7. Find a book with a number in the title.
My find: 13 Treasures, by Michelle Harrison.
8. Find a one-word title.
My find: Sounder, by William H. Armstrong.
9. Find an un-jacketed, library-bound book — if there are more than one on the same shelf, pick the one that looks most “loved” (worn).
My find: The Borrowers Afield, by Mary Norton.
10. Find the Newbery winner for the year you were born.
My find: Aha — you thought you’d trick me! I’m not telling. But, yes, I did find the winner for the year I was born, quietly growing moss in a forgotten corner. 
Random Giveaway
Leave us a comment about your favorite book discovery or special library memory. We will draw a name (at random!) to receive his or her choice of any one of the ten books mentioned in this post:


Bonnie is quite comfortable with both randomness and geekiness. She invites you to stay tuned for more scavenger hunts (virtual and otherwise), as well as puzzles, word games and contests, on the new From the Mixed-Up Files For Kids page, coming soon. 
  1. What a great idea, Bonnie! I can’t wait to have a scavenger hunt with my girls. 🙂

  2. When I was twelve I spent part of the summer at Lakeland College where my uncle taught. I was able to go into the library, browse the shelves and pick something to read…my discovery? Sherlock Holmes! I still remember curling up in a leather, wing back chair and reading story after story.

    Great post, thanks!

  3. I can still remember where “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” was located in my elementary school library. The upper elementary years were a terrific time for engrossing, fun literature.