Five things I’ve learned about my little free library

It’s been about a month or so since the opening of the free little library and here’s what I learned:

  1. You get a superiority complex because with this little library, you initially curate books for people to read. Yes, I think you should read ‘Atonement’ but what? you’re not interested in ‘Moby Dick’?
  2. I’ve seen at least two people take phone photos of the library. I don’t know if they think it quaint or if they are going to report it. Let’s hope it’s the former.
  3. Gypsies exist. You heard me. One day, ankle biter shouted, “The movers, they’re taking away the library.” Yea, whatevs. Later during the day, just to prove to him that nobody took the fridge, I opened the door. Lo and behold, our library was a bit askew. The gypsies took the motor. Good on them.
  4. I think the takers and givers are not the same people. I’ve been placing an additional adult novel or two per week just to keep it full. Right now there’s equal parts children, young adult and crime fiction currently donated and on offer. And thank you unnamed chef for donating an 80s collection of cookbooks. They may make their way to the op shop but who am I to say?
  5. Have we made more friends? No. Any books that have been taken or given have been done anonymously. It’s like Christmas when we open the library. We never know if there’s something new- and if something is missing or something new, it means someone’s day is just a wee bit brighter.

A Free Passport to the World

Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

-Henry James

I do love me a good summer. Summer for me has always meant days immersed in the sun languished in the Channel Islands, Albuquerque tribal lands, an Avonlea farmhouse, the Concord forest. Distant adventures courtesy of the pages of a book. No, not a passport but a bonafide book book. It’s no secret, if you’ve been following along, we love books here. A true passport for a quick getaway, an endless holiday or something inbetween. The library has always been and always remain our travel consultant for our holidaying minds.

This week’s book humbles us. Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra is about a little girl Ana who loves making stories yet owns one book. One day along with the other village children, Ana encounters a man with two donkeys, Alfa and Beto with a sign that reads, Biblioburro (translated: donkey library). This moving library offers children the opportunity to borrow books for a few weeks. In the interim, Ana reads and dreams new stories. She waits for the Biblioburro to return. When they do, she has a surprise for the librarian. The illustrations are stunning with surreal mural montages that celebrate village living and whimsical imagination. It includes a glossary of Spanish terms used in the book.

Anklebiter 1 has recently relished the ‘story’. Move over picture books. He’ll sit and look at images but likes to listen to the unfolding narrative. He loved the notion of burros (donkeys) and a traveling library. He had many questions about Ana’s stories. “Why does the bird have legs?” “Can I fly on a butterfly plane?” He says ‘libro’ (book). This libro has been on rotation for a few weeks now. That says something.

I adore this book because it is inspired by Luis Soriano Bohorquez’s own acts of literary kindness. Bohorquez and his two trusty donkeys deliver books to children living in remote Columbian villages. It opened up my eyes to the various forms of libraries as well as the pulp deficiencies many children experience. An urban imagined for children should always include access to books. With free access to several libraries, we are fortunate and rather spoilt for stories both fiction and factual. Libraries need not always be brick and mortar. And we are sharing the wealth. Before television, before cars and video games, there were books. Books transport us and library cards are the true passports. Where will you travel during these remaining days of a northern hemispheric summer?

How to start a little free library


Little free library.

Take one. Leave one.

I finally did it. I opened up my own little free library. It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do since my mother-in-law spied and frequented one back in Melbourne. Before we moved, I carted a few over and left some cherished but extra unneeded weight: David Sedaris, Bill Bryson and some Bronte. I always promised myself when we got settled wherever we landed, I’d establish my own nook of communal kindness.

free little library coming soon

To help you start your own, here are four things you need:

  1. You want to share and open your footpath space with others. For being a side street, we do get an awful lot of foot traffic: four-legged and otherwise. That being said, you do need to appropriate a space for your little library.
  2. You need a library: a container for your books. There are some neat ones out there to get you inspired like this one or this one. But here, Leeds is wet. And we’re all thumbs with wood and nails. So I’ve just been waiting for the perfect receptacle. It so happened that down the road, someone put out a lil bar fridge. It’s a bit small but it’s something. The seal works just enough to keep the rain and frisky cats out.
  3. You need books. Some kindred spirits passed along a few books which I never got an opportunity to read. So I shared them out along with some others: a mix of children and adults because that’s the kind of hood in which we live.
  4. Patience. It’s up to you how you want to promote your little library. We’re rather low key here and had a quiet opening. I’m solely relying on the paw and footfall. I’m considering it a summer trial: see if I have equal amounts of takers and leavers.
little free library open

Let summer reading begin!

Tickling in public

I have a love/hate relationship with pianos.

I love the way it sounds but hated my piano lessons. I was less than virtuoso as my piano teach fell asleep. When she nodded off, I would tick the telltale mark on the corner of the sheets to represent my accomplishment of the task and then wake her up. Completely, not a virtuoso. Fast forward to the present and my heart has softened when I see pianos, especially pianos in public. Music in public transforms the dynamic of the space. It can either add to the cacophony of mobile phone talkers, taxi horns, bus brakes or completely transform the air into a symphony. Luke Jerram cleverly introduced this international tickling installation and we were lucky enough to experience it.

Tickling in public

It’s no wonder that David Litchfield’s The Bear and the Piano amuses our hearts. This picturesque story is about a bear who stumbles upon an upright in the forest. As it does, curiosity gets the best of the bear and the bear begins a lifelong affection with the piano and the wondrous sounds emanating from it. One day, a human hears the melody and urges the bear to come to the city (evidently Broadway) to play. The bear is swept up in the adulation of its musical talent but then pauses to ponder the twin notions of belonging and home. The illustrations celebrate the juxtapositions of human and animal, shadows and light, urban and rural, solitary and communal. A sweet sweet story and a fine addition to the urban ankle biter library.

Ankle biter 1 enjoyed it because he is finally delving into the concept of story-telling. His omnipresent “Why’s?” are finally being answered as he sits patiently and lets the tale unfold. The book, he felt, required some push the button musical narration given the centrality of the piano. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the fact that bears can travel into the city and receive “stand up clapping.” I enjoyed it because the story is inspired by The White Stripes Little Room. Also, it shares the unity inherent in music, whether playing or listening. I am connected to you in this moment and we belong here. Such connection is best experienced in the great outdoors and we should tickle away (as every good boy does fine). What instrument would you like to play in public?

Five distractions to start your weekend

Whimsy awakened with pedestrian and transport movement in a Jerusalem open market square. Source: HQ architects installs flowers that react to the environment

Paper, photographs and a bit of cheeky history: thanks Rich McCor

When a two hour delay transforms subway riders into a community

A high-fiving bee and the nature of humanity

What would you post on Alan Donohoe and Steven Parker’s The Waiting Wall?

Five distractions to start your weekend

A morning rave for fitness, yes please. Source: Leeds – Morning Gloryville

Too funny. Examining Drake’s “Hotline Bling” via a sprawl lens

Bamboo barriers to block noise and air pollution

CicLAvia is FIVE years old and the largest US open street movement

Great Scott! Back to the Future, a reminder we still have much to do

5 anecdotes about urban acupuncture

Jaime Lerner is enamoured with cities. I was first introduced to this kindred spirit back in 1996 through a book called Hope: Human and wild by Bill McKibben. In wide-eyed wonder, I learned about how this Mayor of Curitiba (Brazil) inspired his city to DO BETTER. He introduced public transport and an ingenious waste recycling system to stimulate social equity. Since then, I’ve heard him speak and he is infectious:  an urban cheerleader of humane and sustainable cities.

Last year, he wrote a book Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating pinpricks of change that enrich life. Here, he presents a medley of ‘pinpricks’ for metaphorical urban ailments (e.g., cultural identity, urban voids, economic opportunities). This book definitely deserves some thumbing and dog-eared pages. Here are 5 anecdotes to get you started.

  1. “The notion of restoring the vital signs of an ailing spot with a simple healing touch has everything to do with revitalising not only that specific place but also the entire area that surrounds it.” (p.1). Through this book, Lerner invites us to find our own ways of healing the city, one action at a time.
  2. “Do nothing! Urgently. ” (p.21). Sometimes the best solution is to stop. Stop building roads. Stop advocating parking requirements. Stop and smell the roses.
  3. “What is important is the correct vision, and a competent set-up of a ‘corresponsibility equation’ What’s needed is a scenario, or an idea, a desirable concept. And all of the people –or most- will help bring it to fruition. It’s precisely at that moment of execution that a people’s self-esteem helps move a city forward” (p. 70). Co-responsibility: to create change, you need buy-in from the ones with whom the change affects.
  4. “The car is our ‘mechanical mother in law” We have to maintain good relations with her, but we can’t let her dominate our lives. We have to know how to coexist with the automobile without becoming its slave.” (p. 64). Amen.
  5. “… since we rarely pay much mind to what we don’t know, how can we hope to generate respect for a city we don’t understand?” (p. 59). Turn off you phone. Go outside and explore. Get lost. Ask for directions. Discover the things about your area that brightens your day. Pinpoint the things that scare you. Become a resident and not a tourist.

Photo of Federation Square, Melbourne by Vivian Romero