Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Miss Moore Thought Otherwise' by Jan Pinborough

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough
illustrated by Debby Atwell
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013

As a former librarian (and one time children's librarian) I was, of course, excited to see the subtitle to Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children. Still, I approached this book with some trepidation, knowing how challenging it can be to make nonfiction books interesting to young children.

Jan Pinborogh hit on the right formula to approach this story, however. Framing Anne Carroll Moore as a feminist and free-thinker, her daring contrariness is the theme that holds the book together and infuses it with excitement.
In the 1870s many people thought a girl should stay inside and do quiet things such as sewing and embroidery. But Annie thought otherwise... 
Back then, an unmarried girl like Annie might keep house for her parents, or perhaps become a teacher or missionary. But Annie thought otherwise... 
Some people thought [New York City] was a dangerous place for a young woman to live on her own. But Annie thought otherwise... 
… many librarians did not let children touch the books, for fear that they would smudge their pages or break their spines. They thought if children were allowed to take books home, they would surely forget to bring hem back. But Miss Moore thought otherwise...
And so Annie Moore created a pledge for children to sign promising that they would care for the books and obey the rules of the library. She took down the “silence” signs and began to tell stories. She replaced dull books with exciting ones, wrote book reviews and created book lists to help people find good books for children.

Then she went on to plan the first Central Children's Room at the New York Public Library with its colorful decorations, child-sized furniture, window seats and special entrance. She hosted reading clubs, invited musicians, storytellers, and authors, and even introduced the children of New York to the king and queen of Belgium.

Her approach to children's services influenced libraries across the world. And after she retired, she continued to travel across the country consulting on library services to children. I, of course, found all of this to be quite inspiring.

But the moment of truth came when I sat down to read it to my children. They sat, rapt, as I read, admiring the colorful folk art paintings of Debby Atwell. When I finished, they spoke over each other, exclaiming how cool it was that the author turned nonfiction into an exciting story, and that one girl turned libraries into great places for kids. They liked that the children's room in the New York Public Library had its own entrance and that children got to borrow library books for the first time. They also commented on how the illustrations looked like a cross between crayons and paint.

Overall, Miss Moore Thought Otherwise is a winner for parents, librarians, and children alike!

Jan Pinborough spent many delightful hours in the New York Public Library, poring over letters in the Anne Carroll Moore Collection. She remembers the children's library from her childhood and the magical sense of walking into a space that felt like her very own. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her family. This is her first children's book. Visit her websites: www.missmoorethoughtotherwise.com and www.janpinborough.com.

Debby Atwell is the author-illustrator of Barn, River, and other Houghton Mifflin picture books. Reviewers have described her vibrant folk art paintings as "charming," "compelling," and "brimming with patriotism and hope." While researching this book, Debby felt as though she could see the first Children's Room alive and filled with children and light. Ms. Atwell lives in Waldoboro, Maine, with her family - not far from Anne Carroll Moore's hometown of Limerick, Maine.

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at reneesreads.com.

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