The Pervert Lady in the Library

Hi Readers — This story makes me sad and sick but it doesn’t surprise me. The same thing is happening at playgrounds: No adults are allowed without a kid — as if every adult who LIKES or even LOVES kids must also want to MOLEST them. Good ol’ “worst first” thinking. Anyway, here’s the latest:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Thought you might be interested in what happened to me today. My husband and I had some appointments and arranged to meet afterwards at the recently renovated Cambridge Public Library. I had brought my laptop and my husband some paperwork, and we planned to do a little work while we were there. I suggested we visit the children’s room: a huge, sunny, room with a ceiling papered to look like a leafy canopy, pillars decorated as tree trunks, and a rug sculpted to look like a stream bed of river stones.

It was 9:00 am and the department was empty except for the librarians. We were the only patrons. We found a corner and settled in until one of the staff came over and informed us that the children’s room was reserved for people “accompanying children.” She was a little apologetic, and explained that it would get busy and loud shortly and there were plenty of other, quieter places for us to work in the library. (True.)

So we settled down in another part of the library and did some work, and when it came time to leave I went in search of the information desk to find the audiobooks for kids. I got directions and asked the woman behind the desk about why we had been shooed from the children’s department. It was explained to me that “they can’t have people hanging out there, looking at little children.” I somehow felt dirty for even having questioned the policy.

This isn’t really about my rights being infringed or really even inconvenienced: I can use the rest of the gorgeous library and am free to use the children’s room, so long as my son chaperones me. But I think this is a chilling development, and I hate what it says about how fearful we have become as a society.

I’m a parent of a 10 year old, a published children’s book author, and I grew up in and around libraries…working as a library page at my hometown library in Falls Church, VA, and at various libraries in college. I love to browse and hang out in the children’s rooms, to watch how kids and their parents interact with books, and to work surrounded by “the canon” of authors who have gone before me. I’m baffled and sad that a library would decide that a huge segment of their patrons are assumed to be dangerous to their youngest patrons. The reasoning seems to be that if you don’t have a child in tow, you can have no legitimate, innocent reason for being in a children’s section of a library. If we’re trending toward a society in which the only people with access to minor children are their parents, teachers, and caregivers, everyone loses, potentially the kids most of all. — Ann Downer

The Saturdays (And Other Free-Range Books From the Past)

Hi Readers — A note from a reader who’s a reader, Linda Wightman, who blogs at Lift Up Your Hearts:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I seem to be seeing everything through Free-Range eyes these days. I don’t know how old you are, but did you or your kids ever read Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake, and other Melendy tales? I was recently re-reading them, on the grounds that any book good enough for children is good enough for an adult seeking distraction from the pain caused by imprudently descending from high altitude with a head cold.

To quote from my own review of the books (can’t I do anything without writing about it?):

What struck me most … was how very much [these books] are a Free-Range Kids manifesto. The kids are far less worldly-wise than today’s average children, but far more competent. They are entertained and even awed by things that would cause most modern American kids to yawn with boredom and make rude remarks. But they wander New York City on their own at 10 years old (with permission) and even six (without); they love Beethoven, and Shakespeare; they wander over hill and dale (in the country), sometimes gone all day and returning home after dark; they sew, and cook, and build things; they put on plays and arrange benefit concerts for the war effort (the books were written in the 1940’s); they get into scrapes and get out of them by a combination of their own ingenuity and knowing when to ask for help from the adults around them. They know the “don’t talk to strangers” rule, and more importantly they know its many exceptions.

Yes, I know this is fiction! But it’s a lot more true to what I knew when I was growing up than most of today’s “realistic” children’s fiction. The people over at Free-Range Kids are an eclectic lot, and I doubt they’d all enjoy Enright’s books, but to me the Melendys are a shining example of the “normal childhood” that many Free-Rangers are working hard to promote. Books like these can encourage both children and their parents in that endeavor, simultaneously promoting family love and loyalty, parental authority, and children’s competence and independence.

And now I’m reading another book on statistics with a (false) life of their own, and you know exactly what I though of….

Keep up the campaign! — Linda Wightman

Lenore here again: I remember  reading and re-reading The Saturdays and the rest of the series. And as for my age: I’m old enough to not remember much of anything about those books except that I LOVED them. (For the record, I was NOT reading them in the 40s!) — L.

The Lion, The Witch and the Car Seat

Hey Readers ! Let’s have a little fun. (Or a lot — up to you.) After reading the post below this one, regarding the kids left home alone in “The Cat In The Hat,” a grad student named Aaron Mulvaney wrote:

Don’t forget, “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street!” The poor kid has to walk home by himself on, like, the sidewalk.

Of course, “And To Think I Saw It Out of the Backseat Window of My Mom’s Minivan on The Way to Soccer Practice!” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Which got me thinking: Why don’t we come up with the names of some classic, Free-Ranging kids books re-written for these modern, cautious times? Things like, “Alice and Her Caregiver’s Adventures in Wonderland.” And,  “Are You There, Mom? It’s Me, Margaret. Text Me.” And the indoor adventure of a boy and his dog,  “Lassie, Stay Home.”

You get the idea. Pile on!