For Parents

Celebrating Little Free Libraries and Their Founder

You’ve seen them, right? Little boxes on poles, filled with books, and standing in the most unexpected places.

Brunswick, ME has a Little Free Library down the street from the Brunswick Inn.

The Little Free Library movement began just nine years ago in Hudson, Wisconsin when founder Todd Bol crafted the first book box from an old door. Less than a decade later, there are more than 75, 000 Little Free Libraries in 88 countries.

Of course, Bol’s vision had everything to do with books and reading, but what many don’t know is that building a sense of community was Bol’s ultimate goal. Connecting people to books is one thing. Connecting people to people through books is what makes each Little Free Library so very special.

Ashlyn doesn’t wait to get home to start reading. The Little Free Library in Monroe, Indiana is one of her favorite places to visit.

Last week, Todd Bol died following a very brief illness. He leaves behind a successful non-profit organization that employs 13 people and has more than 75,000 volunteer stewards who maintain the Little Free Libraries around the world.  Author Miranda Paul and illustrator John Parra have been working on a picture book about Bol and his Little Free Library movement. The book is titled “Little Libraries, Big Heroes,” and will be released in 2019.

Listen to Miranda discuss the upcoming book and Bol’s legacy on NPR’s All Things Considered.


Little Free Libraries have sprouted up everywhere. They can be found in parks, neighborhoods, outside of businesses and on country roads. Authors Sherri Duskey Rinker and Jane Yolen have placed them in front of their homes.

One day, Sherri’s neighbor called and told her to grab her camera and look at what was happening outside. Sherri snapped this picture.

THIS is exactly what Todd Bol envisioned. Not book boxes on sticks. Hubs of community, sharing, reading, memory-making.


This Little Free Library stands outside the Exploration Station at Perry Farm Park in Bourbonnais, Illinois.


Recently, my daughter discovered a Little Free Library near her college campus in Illinois. On a rainy day, she placed copies of my books inside, snuggled next to Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat. Knowing that a young reader could wander by and find a story to enjoy there made my day.


The Little Free Library at Phoenix Farm, the home of author Jane Yolen.

At some time, I’d like to place a Little Free Library myself. I live on a sprawling, working farm, so my own property would only attract cattle and hogs. I will think of the perfect spot and I’ll carry on Todd Bol’s amazing legacy by signing up to become a Little Free Library steward. You can, as well, by clicking here.

Until then, I’ve resolved to keeping a box of books in my trunk. I won’t pass a Little Free Library without adding my contribution, in memory of and in celebration of Todd Bol.

We’re talking nonfiction with a librarian!

As an author of primarily nonfiction, I thought it would be interesting to interview a librarian about all-things nonfiction for middle grade readers.

Rachel Stewart, the children’s services librarian for the Maumee (Ohio) Branch of the Toledo Lucas County Library was kind enough to answer questions I had about the topic from her perspective. Rachel has been with the TLCPL for five years. Her background is in elementary education, taught in traditional as well as a Montessori school, where she also served as an administrator. As you would expect, she is an active reader, enjoying various genres and subjects

As a children’s librarian, what nonfiction titles/subjects do you find appeal to middle grade readers the most? Middle grade readers are drawn to books about making and doing. When filling our new nonfiction displays, I notice that books related to STEAM subjects go fast, especially those that involve LEGO building or crafts. The DK book series is a constantly popular one. It is so popular that we have a designated, ongoing display of those books for customers to browse. This tells me that kids have a natural curiosity about a wide variety of topics and enjoy the graphic layout and photographs within these books.

I know that in our library system, the biographies for children, from PB to YA are shelved with biographies for adult readers. Does this lessen the exposure to young readers? (As opposed to shelving them in with children’s books?) We keep a constant display of the “Who Was/is…?” series, which has been very useful to parents and children alike. We often do temporary displays of PB bios and are currently doing a long-term display of YA/adult bios. Most often, when a child asks about bios, it is about a specific person and we can point them in the right direction (if such a book exists). We frequently do juvenile nonfiction displays on a wide variety of topics and usually include bios. There are pros and cons to interfiling, however, a major positive is that interfiling encourages young readers to choose books that they may not be exposed to in the juvenile section. Interfiling also allows adults with a lower reading level to feel comfortable browsing for books on a topic of interest.

Do you find that MG readers are borrowing nonfiction titles simply out of curiosity or because of school assignments? I believe that MGs are borrowing for both reasons. The NF displays that we keep up are heavily trafficked and browsed. I will often recommend narrative NF to reluctant NF readers just to open that door.

Does the library do much programming in nonfiction for middle grade readers? Nonfiction programming is a priority within the Toledo Lucas County Public Library system. At Maumee we have a popular programming series for grades 1-8 called “No School? No Problem!” that is focused on STEAM activities and scheduled when the local schools are off. When presenting those programs, we always include a large selection of related books for attendees to browse.

Do you have any amusing experiences with middle grade readers relating to nonfiction topics you care to share? I enjoy loading a child up with books on a favorite topic. I witness visible excitement and anticipation as if taking that stack home will be like opening a gift. 

 I also happen to have an 11-year-old that is a voracious reader of both fiction and nonfiction. He is spoiled by new books almost daily and I love when he asks what I brought for him. He is a fan of the Nat Geo and Guinness Books about world records and amazing facts. I am amused when he feels the need to share (at rapid-fire pace) interesting trivia from those books while I am driving or getting ready for work in the morning.

What are some of your favorite middle grade nonfiction titles? I have a love of cookbooks and am thrilled whenever we get new juvenile titles. Cooking encompasses so many practical life skills and supports emotional well-being. I believe learning to cook and bake should be a core part of childhood.

Thank you Rachel for your time and input!

How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle

Well done, Mr. Tingle.

Imagine a class full of anxious 5th graders sitting on the rug at your feet begging for the next chapter in our read aloud, How I Became a Ghost by Choctaw native and story teller Tim Tingle.

As a teacher, I incorporate every moment into a teaching moment, and storytelling is no different. This is my third year reading this book aloud and a common comment after each session is how much my students love this story.

A couple of years ago, I sent two students on an errand, and they later burst through the classroom doors out of breath. They said they had run as fast as they could across the campus to get back before I started reading. I realized then, that I shouldn’t send kids on errands or make kids do catch-up work when we were visiting the land of the Choctaw on the Trail of Tears.

How I Became a Ghost is not only entertaining, it is also brutally honest. It is a tale of the Trail of Tears, when  Native Americans were forced to leave their homes in Mississippi and relocate to land now called Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The story is told through the eyes of Issac, a ten-year old Choctaw. In the very beginning, Isaac announces to his readers (or listeners in this case) that he is going to be a ghost soon. And because of his condition, premonitions of grisly events begin to plague him.

This is where the brutally honest part comes in. There are many disturbing scenes that are so well-told, that the kids shriek in shock. But they get it. And they are anxious for you to keep reading. For example, during one of Isaac’s premonitions, he sees an old Choctaw couple burning in flames. Soon after, the same couple die when soldiers sneak into the neighborhood at night to set everyone’s homes on fire. And then there is the premonition of pus-filled sores covering some of the tribe’s bodies. You guessed it. Soldiers ride into camp and offer the shivering population blankets exposed to Smallpox.

Choctaws were removed west of the Mississippi started in 1831. Louisiana Indians Walking Along a Bayou by Alfred Boisseau was painted in 1846.

Smallpox became a huge topic in the classroom and I had to teach a mini-lesson on communicable diseases (which ties into our Health curriculum) and the use of diseased blankets.  The bigger story, which we discussed several times, was the relationship between native tribes, societal beliefs, and the government in the 1830s.

Because Tim Tingle is a master storyteller, tie-ins to Native American culture are seamlessly woven into the story. We learn how the spiritual world is part of the family unit and how those who have passed on look after and protect those still walking the earth.  When Isaac becomes a ghost, his story does not stop there. As a ghost he is able to assist the living as they continue their fight to stay alive while walking the trail.

As with most great books, and one that has won many awards, the literary elements are rich. Besides profound sayings worthy of insightful discussion, we examined how imagery comes from the imagination. The scene goes from text on paper to an image inside our heads. In the following scene, Isaac’s feet are frozen in a puddle, and when he pulls his feet up the skin tears off. The kids cringe when this happens, but they understand how bitter cold can affect the body and the desperate conditions of the Choctaw. It is interesting to see imagery taking shape through the imagination of a fifth grader.

Some conversations: What is the author saying? Why does the author make a point of one hundred footprints turning into a thousand? Why were the footprints bloody and not regular footprints?

Isaac looking back and seeing a bloody trail of footprints.

Isaac covered with a blue blanket leaning against a tree with his feet frozen in ice.

One of the reasons I originally chose to read a book on Native American history is because it helps students to build a broader concept of how the U.S. was formed. Books can be powerful tools and it is a tool that sits at the top of my teacher toolbox.