Building a library: guest post by Shannon Anderson

Part 6 of a growing series on Blog of Green Gables, When Writers Read Kids’ Books. Writer, curator and editor, Shannon Anderson, tells us how she goes about building a library (and hopefully a love of books) for her daughter D. I’m curious to know how others choose what lines the bookshelves for young readers?

Shannon writes:

The Music Library, by Giuseppe Maria Crespi

There was a moment, when my daughter was about two-and-a-half, when I discovered that she was quite capable of listening to books that were much longer than the ones we had been reading together. We immediately set off to the library to borrow some books with more elaborate tales; with pages that unfolded in paragraphs, rather than sentences. It wasn’t long ago that she was eagerly fingering the next page of our book, pushing me to speed along. Now, the pace has slowed considerably as she takes in these longer stories, peppering them with all manner of questions and concerns.

I’m learning to approach D’s education in books as a constantly (and sometimes rapidly!) evolving process. I try to think a few steps ahead, consciously testing the waters sometimes, while keeping a few books ready-at-the-waiting for her next leap in interest. Like most people reading this blog, I’ve always been an avid reader and it’s something I’m eager to pass along to my daughter. But I suspect that all I can do is provide the best possible conditions and surroundings for encouraging her interest in reading and hope for the best. To that end, I’m currently pursuing two types of book collections: one geared toward discovery, and one that’s a little more selective.

There’s a picture of me and my dad, taken when I was about two months old. My dad has propped me up on the couch with him to read, and I’m utterly engrossed in Normal Thelwell’s The Effluent Society. By all appearances, it looks as though I’m engaged in some kind of environmental text (and that’s how we often joked about the photo in our household), but in actuality it’s a book of cartoons on the hazards of industrial progress. So, it was likely the pictures that grabbed my interest more than anything else. In any case, it’s a photograph I’ve always loved, and it has new meaning for me now as a reminder that it’s worth having all manner of books lying around the house for burgeoning readers to discover, whether or not they can be readily understood. I wonder if part of developing a love of books comes from simply being around them – having them lying around for casually flipping through their mysterious pages and strange illustrations and trying to figure out just what you’ve got in front of you.

So, I’ve been looking at our own bookshelves with different eyes lately. To be honest, our collection is not all that extensive – I’ve always been more of a library borrower than a buyer, at least when it comes to fiction. But the other day, I came across a perfect copy of Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock in the small stack of books for sale at our local library, and decided to place a loony in the metal box and take it home to add to our bookshelves. While it was a book I had enjoyed reading a few years ago, my real reason for buying it was for its intricate illustrations and creative format, which incorporates envelopes and letters. I imagined D might enjoy discovering it during a future scouring of our bookshelves.

My daughter is only three years old, but it seems a love of books can happen pretty quickly, so I’m trying to think about the future. The second book collection I’m working on is a little more formal, and definitely still very small. Each year for D’s birthday, I’ve decided to acquire a new book to add to a small library, signed by the author and inscribed to her. The collection didn’t quite start this way – her first birthday consisted of a signed limited edition book I found in a design store – Hanna by Katherine Morley – but it got me thinking about creating a personalized collection that grew by a book a year.

And just before D’s second birthday, I found out that Salman Rushdie was going to be in town for a reading and signing of Luka and the Fire of Life. Not exactly an early-reader kind of book, but it is intended in part for younger audiences, so I was sold. I won’t pretend it was all about my daughter – as one of my all-time favourite authors, meeting Rushdie was on my bucket list and listening to him read in person was a remarkable experience. But I enjoyed having the added mission of getting the book inscribed for D. And last year, when her third birthday was coming up, it only took a few minutes of searching the internet to discover that Margaret Atwood was doing a book signing in a couple of weeks time. And so I got to meet another favourite author, while at the same time having her inscribe a copy of Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda. This time I was a little bolder – the inscription reads: “To D on her third birthday.”

I like the idea of creating some kind of connection between me, an author and my daughter. Maybe when she’s older, D and I can choose her birthday book and attend the signings together. Right now, the collection is only in its infancy, and it’s a bit of a hodge-podge, but I suppose that’s how most collections begin. If I raise a daughter who’s not so interested in books, so be it, but each year I’m looking forward to being reminded that fostering a love of reading for someone else is an ongoing endeavour.

Shannon Anderson is an independent writer, curator and editor who works mainly with contemporary art and culture. She has curated exhibitions and written essays for galleries across Canada, and has contributed to various art magazines including Art Papers, DesignLines, Canadian Art and C Magazine. She also assists artists with writing about their work, and has edited publications on everything from heritage quilts to performance art. She lives in Oakville, Ontario with her husband and daughter, and they are looking forward to welcoming a new baby this July. Plans for an additional book collection are underway! Visit her website:


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6 responses to “Building a library: guest post by Shannon Anderson

  1. trilby

    What a lovely tradition! We are expecting our first child this summer, and I’ve already amassed a box full of books for him/her (in fact, the only thing we’ve bought so far has been a book – Jon Klassen’s ‘I Want My Hat Back’, which makes me and my husband laugh out loud on every reading). I’m now inspired to adopt your annual signed copy tradition… the only question is, which book to start with?!

  2. jim

    That great pic caused an involuntary chuckle and I can understand how it is treasured!

    The great idea of a gift book every birthday, although of course not original, made me wonder why it never occurred to me as each grandchild came into being? Is it too late now that the oldest is near twenty? One would have to know one’s offspring removed by one well though!

    Now I also wish I had done so fifty-one years ago! Still all three have developed a love for books without it——–

    • kristendenhartog

      I remember getting books as presents as a child. I always loved those gifts. Maybe because they are a slow-release sort of present. There’s the gift itself, then the story yet to come page by page.

      • Ann T

        I still love getting books as presents. Slow release presents, yes, for sure! The best kind!
        I know some people are hesitant about giving books the way they are hesitant about giving art: is it to the person’s taste, will they like it, hate it etc? but I think the very act of giving a book/story you yourself enjoyed and want them to share is gift enough. When I read a book someone has gifted me with, I often ponder what they might have hoped I would see/feel/understand/enjoy when they chose it for me.

        PS I love the dad/baby pic in this blog. Reminds me of several cherished ones of me and my dad from way back when (well before June, 1974).

  3. kristendenhartog

    Ah yes. Well said, Ann T.

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