“You know they’re closing all of the Barnes and Noble bookstores,” my dad announced to me during our weekly visit. “That can’t be right,” I responded. But it was. Last month, the last Barnes and Noble in Queens, NY closed. I drove past it recently and my heart ached at the sight of it: Stripped down, locked, and barren. Those magical brown doors were the gateway to a wondrous world where my daughter’s love affair with books and reading began.
Our routine was simple. Each week during the first five years of my daughter’s life, we’d visit our local library. She’d pick out 25 picture books, the maximum they’d allow, and we’d race home to spread them across the carpeted floor of our living room apartment. Then, we’d read, read, read! By the end of the week, she’d select a favorite or two from the pile, and we’d purchase these books from our Barnes & Noble. Over time, we grew an impressive home library filled with beloved books. Fifteen years later, many of these books can be found on the shelves of my classroom library where they are read and loved by my students.
As I stared at the vacant bookstore, I was flooded with memories. All of those years browsing the aisles, dollar bills or gift card in my daughter’s hands as she thoughtfully determined which book, out of all the gems surrounding her, she’d purchase that day. What does it mean for young children to grow up in a neighborhood without bookstores? To instead, have to travel many, many miles to experience the thrill of purchasing a book of their own?
Our school and classroom libraries are increasingly crucial to our students. With the closing of small and large bookstores and the reduction of funding of local libraries along with their hours of operation, schools will be the only opportunities for many children to be surrounded by large selections of great books.
I appreciate and embrace change. I understand that change is essential for the growth of any civilization and society. I am not arguing against online booksellers. I use them frequently and could not imagine functioning efficiently without them. Instead, I’m arguing that we need both.
Our children need to experience the possibilities of a new book that can only come from a face-to-face encounter. The sight of it; the cool feel of its cover; the smell of the pages. It’s a sensory experience that brings about a visceral response; one that results in pure excitement for reading.
As I drove a bridge away from those first formative years of my daughter’s childhood at our Barnes and Noble, images of the books she encountered and loved filled my mind. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boyton; If you Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff; Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel; The Magic School Bus; The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron; Meet Danitra Brown by Nikki Grimes; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.
I’ll always treasure the hours spent there, selecting the perfect literary gift for my daughter, family members, and friends. In this ever changing landscape of online activity, let’s remember that few things are more powerful than a book in the hands of a child.
Sonja Cherry-Paul enjoys trying on a new book as much as trying on a new pair of shoes. She is a member of the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Committee and has been immersed in reading wonderful books by authors and illustrators who address themes related to social justice. The best part of this process is sharing these incredible books with her 6th graders and the insightful conversations they spark. Sonja is co-author of Teaching Interpretation: Using Text-Based Evidence to Construct Meaning and Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach.