I’ve long said we need more LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books where the characters’ LGBTQ identities are incidental to the plot. A new picture book in a popular series takes just that approach with a delightful tale of a boy who “is a slow and careful reader” and a librarian (who happens to be nonbinary) helping him find just the right book for his interests.
The Little Library, written by Margaret McNamara and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, is the fifth book in the duo’s Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series from Schwartz & Wade Books. In this one, most of the class is excited about visiting their school’s new library and meeting the new librarian—except for one boy named Jake. “Jake was a slow and careful reader,” we learn. “Sometimes he read the same page more than once so he could figure everything out.” On Library Day, he “felt left behind.”
The new librarian, Beck Goode, is “a friendly-looking person” who says, “Please call me Librarian Beck.” As the other children run off in search of books, Jake studies the bookcases and how they’re put together. Librarian Beck notices this and comes over with a big book called Woodworking for Young Hands. Jake can already identify many of the tools in it, but notes that it has a lot of pictures and therefore “doesn’t count as reading.”
“Says who?” Beck counters. Jake checks out the book.
Over the course of several days, Jake reads through some of the projects in it. When the book is due back, Librarian Beck sees the careful notes Jake took and encourages him to keep it longer. Librarian Beck later recommends some additional books on DIY projects.
At the end of the school year, however, all books are due back and the library will be closed all summer. Jake, however, has an idea. With the help of his grandfather and the woodworking book, they build something, which Jake reveals at the final Library Day of the year. It’s a “little library”—a small box shaped like a house, on a post like a mailbox, where people can take and return books for free. They place it outside the school, and Librarian Beck fills it with books.
We see children using the little library all summer. Jake hasn’t wanted to do so, however, telling Librarian Beck that he’ll wait for his favorite, Woodworking for Young Hands, in the fall. Yet one day in July, a package appears in the mail for Jake. It’s that book, along with a note from Beck, who tells Jake that because he’s “loved it more than anyone had in a long time,” Beck withdrew it from the library and gave it to him.
A final note “by Jake” informs readers that Little Free Libraries are a real thing, and more information can be found at littlefreelibrary.org. (It’s true!)
Both Jake and Beck are White, although the class as a whole is multiracial. Beck sports an asymmetrical haircut, a plain circular earring high on one ear, and a variety of colorful shirts. We’re never told that Beck is nonbinary; McNamara simply uses “they” pronouns for Beck without fanfare. It’s refreshing—and the main point of the story, that different children read differently and there’s no right or wrong way for a book to have an impact, is an important one.
Yes, there’s still a vital place for books that explain different gender identities and pronouns, but there are happily already a number of those. (Find them in my database under the “Gender identity/expression” tag—read the blurbs to get a sense of how explanatory each one is.) At the same time, it’s great to see a book that simply shows nonbinary people as a part of our world—and as a valued mentor, no less.
For more picture books with nonbinary and genderqueer characters, see my database under the “Nonbinary/genderqueer kid” tag. For another picture book with a queer librarian, check out Brian Bigg’s I’m a Librarian.
(Thanks to Alli Harper of OurShelves for alerting me to this book!)