These Farmhouse Bookshelves

May 11, 2013

The very best writers are also readers.

No wonder there are so many good books about books (and bookstores and libraries). Here are three: a novel for grownups, a picture book for the littles, and a read-aloud for both.


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I finished the new novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel by Robin Sloan just last week, and I could hardly wait to tell you about it.

In some ways this pick is an obvious one for me: a cozy, creepy bookstore and a bookish mystery wrapped up in a sweet story of friendship and community.

In other ways, my appreciation for this book doesn’t make much sense at all: a fanatical Google employee, geeky computer-talk, and characters who are adorably cartoonish rather than fully human.

But I loved it. This is why: optimism and joy.

This is a novel to make us love the old ways and the new (dusty books and the latest e-readers). This is a story to fill us with admiration for quirky, independent bookstores and the corporate giants who rule the internet.

Sloan reminds us that printed books  were once the very latest in technological innovation. Remembering that helps me to feel so much more at ease in a world that often seems to be leaving books behind.

… this is exactly the kind of store that makes you want to buy a book about a teenage wizard. This is the kind of store that makes you want to be a teenage wizard.

This next pick is the kind of old-fashioned picture book I love. Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes is lovely to see and lovely to hear. This is one you won’t mind reading again and again (which is really the only kind of picture book worth having at all). It makes me long for the familiar shelves of my own childhood library.

I’m afraid that in our zeal to see our children develop into readers we move them too quickly from picture books to easy chapter books. The very best picture books are works of art. They are as important for adults and older children as they are for the preschool set.

Not only that, but the ideas and the language of most picture books (remember those “soporific” lettuces in the Beatrix Potter tale?) are far more challenging than anything you’ll find in a beginning reader.

Spend a few dollars and support a great artist. Buy a picture book.

One day, a lion came to the library.

I’m sure you’ve all read this last title. Matilda by Roald Dahl is a classic. I wasn’t going to mention it at all, but this hardcover edition is so pretty, and … well … what if some of you haven’t read it?? I can’t be held responsible for that, now can I?

Matilda just might be my favorite little reader. Her parents are horrible, her home life is tragically comedic, but Matilda finds the strength and love she requires in books. Good books turn Matilda into a heroine, and the book which bears her name is very, very good.

‘I’m wondering what to read next.’ Matilda said. ‘I’ve finished all the children’s books.’



  1. Samantha Livingston

    Haven’t read any of them. Is that a crime? Putting them on hold at my local library now. Thanks for sharing. Dahl is a name that keeps resurfacing with my kids so I’m looking forward to us all reading!

    • Christie Purifoy

      Not a crime, Samantha! Actually, it makes me quite happy because I’d hate to think I’m recommending books everyone has already read. 🙂

  2. Lina

    Christie, you really hit the nail on the head with your comment about picture books! As an educator, I’ve told parents and teachers again and again how incredibly crucial picture books are for vocabulary expansion. The language found in picture books are at higher levels than what is cound in newspapers, magazines and on tv and radios…and certainly easy readers. 🙂 Thanks for continually advocating for children’s literature!

    • Christie Purifoy

      Oh, thank you, Lina. I admire your professional expertise, so your words of agreement mean a great deal. Thanks for chiming in! By the way, do you have any favorite picture books??

  3. Michelle DeRusha

    I’ve never thought about picture books like that, but you are so right. My kids were in a hurry to move onto the chapter books, and I was in a hurry for them to do so, too. But my youngest (8), still loves to delve into a picture book from time to time. I’m going to encourage that — and enjoy it with him, too!

    P.S. I have not read Matilda – how did I miss that one as a kid?!

    • Christie Purifoy

      Michelle, I think there’s something about picture books that asks us to slow down. This is why they’re so wonderful, but also why, for me at least, they often get pushed aside. A child reading their own chapter book in the corner is so easy, and it leaves me free to read my own thing, but I know that sitting down on the couch together, with a picture book on our laps, is a good (and all too fleeting) pleasure. I want to make more time for it.
      And you should definitely read Matilda! I also think the movie version is pretty great. 🙂

  4. Leese

    Finally someone else who’s read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel! I found it awhile back and it sort of seemed like a more modern version (and intended for grown-ups) of the Mysterious Benedict Society books. I really enjoyed it, too!

    I always enjoy blog posts where people either recommend books or quote from them – I’ve found some great ones that way. But it’s also so fun when someone shares a liking for ones that you do, too!

    • Christie Purifoy

      Oh, I’m so glad to hear you loved it too! I am not at all inclined toward novel writing, but it was such a happy book (I think I smiled all the way through) that it made me wish I could write a book just like it.

  5. Lina

    Hey Christie, some of my favorite picture books include: Daulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, (I pored over this book in third grade, completely enraptured by the stories and illustrations.) I Love You, Little One, Brer Rabbit, Animalia by Graeme Base, and Thank you Mr Falker by Patricia Polacco. I also like some of the silly books like The Math Curse, Science Verse, and the True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. 🙂

    • Christie Purifoy

      Lina, I was obsessed with Daulaires’ Book of Greek Myths as a child. I checked it out of my school library so many times, my mother finally bought me my own copy (and we weren’t much of a book-buying family). My children now read my old copy. I Love You, Little One is another big favorite of mine. You have good taste! Which means I’m going to check out each of these books because several are new to me. Thank you!!

  6. Alenna

    I absolutely love to wander through someone else’s bookshelves – especially when I see old friends of mine well-loved, and am introduced to other characters that I’m positive will delight me as well. (Have you ever read Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt? She has SO many great lists of picture books and chapter books for children. I highly recommend the Melendy Quartet series by Elizabeth Enright and The Borrowers series by Mary Norton! They are both enchanting in their own way!) Thank you for the peek at your book shelves. I’ll be back to peruse some more. I am certain we would be kindred spirits!

    • Christie Purifoy

      Alenna, you’ve mentioned some of my very favorite books! Hunt’s book is excellent – I often consult her lists. Of the Quartet, my daughter and I have only read The Saturdays. I need to track down the others! Happy reading. 🙂


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