Once upon a time, libraries did not offer story hour. In fact, children were not allowed to borrow books – and in some cases, kids were not even permitted inside the library. Young people, librarians believed, would only abuse books and disturb other patrons. In any case, many believed that reading wasn’t very important for children anyway, especially girls. But change was in the air. In the early twentieth century, a young librarian named Anne Carroll Moore pioneered the children’s library as we know it in New York City: story hour, kid-sized furniture, cheerful artwork, and a variety of books to entertain and engage children of all ages. Moore created a space in which children could ask questions, explore ideas, and begin a lifelong love affair with reading. She acquired children’s books in a variety of languages and used dolls to put shy children, especially recent immigrants, at their ease. She also wrote book reviews to elevate the status of children’s literature. When she retired, she traveled around the country, helping other libraries improve their children’s sections.
In Miss Moore Thought Otherwise, Jan Pinborough and illustrator Debby Atwell tell Moore’s story. The picture-book biography starts with her free-spirited childhood in small-town Maine and concludes with a musing on the nature of libraries today. Throughout Pinborough’s delightful narrative, Miss Moore thinks “otherwise” about the role of women, libraries, children, and retired people. Atwell’s illustrations are reminiscent of folk art: her paintings’ lively use of color, simple forms, and busy composition suggest Moore’s delight in books and the world around her. In one of the book’s most striking spreads, the island of Manhattan seems to glow with light. Boats of all sizes circle the island, horse-drawn carriages fill its streets, and tiny forms occupy its docks and alleys. Above it all, a grinning Anne Carroll Moore appears in a ray of light: this is the adventure Moore saw in her adopted city.
In many ways, Miss Moore Thought Otherwise is a celebration of today’s libraries in all their openness and inclusiveness. In the age of e-readers, it is easy to take libraries for granted: however, the idea that anyone can select any book and borrow it for free is still exhilarating and perhaps even revolutionary.
Dorothy A. Dahm