What makes you pick up a book from the library shelf and check it out? The author? A friend’s recommendation? An eye-catching cover or spine design? It’s probably different reasons for different people at different times. As a librarian, I have to look at statistics to see what kind of books I need to order for the library’s collection based on what gets checked out the most.
Conversely, I also have to look at the books that do not get checked out. Sometimes, it’s a no-brainer why a book doesn’t get checked out — dated and terrible cover artwork is a death sentence for a book in most of the library’s collections (but particularly in teen fiction). Extremely specialized topics can keep a book from leaving the shelf. I once found a book on playing the spoons in our youth nonfiction section – it hadn’t been checked out a single time in ten years (I can tell you’re shocked). Other times, I seriously question why a book never checks out, especially when it’s something that I think is fantastic.
I’ve realized that books can be a lot like people — the ones with great substance and no flash seem to be overlooked a lot, some are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some are completely surrounded by books that everyone knows and loves, so they keep getting overlooked and pushed to the side. Here are few of my favorites that very few people have given a chance — maybe they just need a little extra push:
Collected Stories by Roald Dahl
Most people know Dahl for his children’s fiction, but he also wrote incredible short stories for adults. They are humorously macabre and grotesque with fabulous plot twists. Plus, they are short. I’m guessing this book doesn’t go out much because the cover features a grumpy, old Dahl sporting high-hitched golf pants. Enjoy!
Good-Bye Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson
This is a lovely little graphic novel by the author of the tomes Blankets and Habibi. It looks like a graphic novel for children (which is probably why it never leaves the adult graphic novel shelf), but Thompson’s treatment of loss and loneliness would be lost on a younger audience. The feels you will get from reading this book are more than worth the time it will take to read it.
A Step From Heaven by An Na
A Step From Heaven is a powerfully authentic work on the acculturation of a young Korean girl and her family after they move to California. It was written for teens and is housed in our teen section, but since the protagonist is only four-years old at the beginning of the book, I can see why a middle school student would not tear this one off the shelf. You should tear it off the shelf, though because it’s very well-written and gives a window into the world of recent immigrants and how they might experience the shocks and adjustments of a new culture.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Dodie Smith is best known for writing the book 101 Dalmatians. The book 101 Dalmatians is better known as the movie 101 Dalmatians by Disney, so maybe Dodie Smith should be best known for I Capture the Castle. Written as a journal of seventeen year-old Cassandra Mortmain who is honing her writing craft, Castle depicts the life of an eccentric and impoverished English family in the 1930s. Oh, and did I mention the family lives in an abandoned castle? Yes, an abandoned castle. Castle ruins is where this family lives! I don’t think it gets more Gothic and romantic than that. Read it, people!
Shortcut by Donald Crews
Just because you’re an adult does not mean that you can’t enjoy a picture book every now and then. Based on actual events from the author’s childhood, Shortcut is one of my all-time favorites that gets left in the dust a lot. I relentlessly put it on display hoping someone will take (someone please take it!!!). It’s about danger, fear, transgression, and secrets. Oh, and trains. The book hearkens back to a time when children wandered around on their own, having adventures and exploring. Maybe it will inspire you to let your let your kids have some free-range time. Just read Shortcut to them first as railroad track deterrent.
-Dana Tucker is the Youth Services Librarian at the North Branch Library.