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Build a Family Reading Culture Part II: How We Organize Children's Books

Build a Family Reading Culture Part II: How We Organize Children's Books

This post is Part II in a series on building a family reading culture. Check out Part I here.

My father in law once told me that the only time a person can have too many books is if their house is on fire. I’m not sure we’re quite at that level yet, but when it comes to children’s books, we are certainly headed in that direction.

Our kids are blessed to be gifted books often by our family and friends. The books started streaming in at my baby shower for my oldest over 12 years ago. Once our son was born, books entered not just at holidays and birthdays, but throughout the year as the seasons changed and whenever someone who loved him stumbled upon a book out in the world that they made a connection with.

Isn’t it always that way with books? As an adult, you reconnect with a children’s book that held a special place in your heart and immediately feel the need to pass it on. My sister sent a copy of Pickles the Fire House Cat, a book she had never owned herself, but loved reading twice a year at the dentist. Something about that story stuck with her in a way that made her need to pass it on.

That’s the way so many books found their way into our home. They are picked up at garage sales or on Target runs. Sometimes a relative will pass on a copy with a faded cover and torn binding they found cleaning out a closet. Sometimes the books come brand new, sometimes used, but they are always welcome.

All of this is just a rambling way of saying, we’ve got more than our fair share of children’s books. And, because our kids are seven years apart, we’ve had to find ways to organize and store board books, chapter books, and novels (often in the same room).

I’m sharing below what’s worked for us in the past, what's working now, and a few thoughts on how to make your children’s book collection more accessible for reader’s of all ages:

1. Board Books

I’m including in this category, not just traditional board books, but really any book directed at babies and toddlers. When you search for children’s book organization on Pinterest, a lot of what you’ll see is creative, albeit not always practical ways of displaying this type of book in a nursery.

They’re often displayed on top of dressers or up high on shelves. There are hacks for a number of Ikea products that will help you get children’s books way up high, out of the reach of children.

I’m of the mind, that you should keep most of this type of book easily accessible for your toddler. Little ones benefit from interacting with books in a tactile way. This may mean sacrificing a book or two in the beginning. Or, it may bean putting books with movable or “delicate” pages ups and keeping the hardier copies down low.

For this stage, I love using bins or baskets. Our 4-year-old has (mostly) moved on from this type of book, but they are still stored in bins on a low shelf. Right now, our manipulative book (pop-ups, interactive, etc) are kept there too. We also use this shelf to store puzzles and a few other “quiet” toys.

Board books, manipulative books, etc all within reach. I buy pop-up books at the thrift store, so it’s not a huge investment if they are damaged.

Board books, manipulative books, etc all within reach. I buy pop-up books at the thrift store, so it’s not a huge investment if they are damaged.

2. Story Books and Early Readers

I’m not really sure what this category should be called. In a way, the stage between board books and middle- grade books constitutes most of what we think of when we imagine children’s books. Green Eggs and Ham, Madeline, Where the Wild Things Are, Corduroy, etc.

I think this stage might include some early chapter books too. Stewart Little, Charlotte’s Web, Little House in the Big Woods, etc.

The key is keeping this type of book accessible and visible. Until recently, we stored most of our children’s books facing out, using a rain gutter hack I found on Pinterest. They were easy to install and relatively cheap. When we first put them up years ago, I think the whole project came in under $50.

There are other options for shelving that allows you to store books facing out. If you can, I think this is the way to go. It does require a dedicated wall or part of a wall. But, I’m convinced that part of keeping books “top of mind” for kids is just reminding them that the books are there in the first place. Particularly at this stage (4-9ish) when electronics start to crowd out reading time.

Our original “gutter book shelves” at our home in Texas. We disassembled and reassembled these when we moved to New York.

Our original “gutter book shelves” at our home in Texas. We disassembled and reassembled these when we moved to New York.

3. Chapter Books, Proper Novels and Beyond

No surprise here. The best way to organize books in this category is…a bookshelf. Or, maybe bookshelves if your collection has grown. The twist is, to get your tween or teen in on the organization. There’s a chance that they won’t care and just stack the books up and move on. But, I’m guessing many adolescents have strong feelings about their particular collection of books. I know I did and my pre-teen certainly does.

Organizing novels by series, genre or color (although the later is personally a little cringe-inducing for me) is a great opportunity to remind kids how far they’ve come as readers. It’s also a great opportunity to think about which series’ might have new titles out and which authors have made the biggest impact. The point is, get the kids in on the organization!

One of two tall bookcases used for overflow storybooks and chapter books. Bob the giraffe acting as resident librarian.

One of two tall bookcases used for overflow storybooks and chapter books. Bob the giraffe acting as resident librarian.

4. When to Put Books Away/Donate

As well loved as your child’s book collection may be, there will likely come a time when one or more of their books is no longer needed in rotation. If space on shelves becomes limited, or if a book is not likely to be reread or passed down to siblings, I think it is totally ok to pack it away or send it on to a new reader.

We often donate books and I hope you do too. But, if you are hoping to keep a book that isn’t currently being used and simply want to store it, I suggest small, shallow storage bins. While cardboard boxes are certainly more environmentally friendly then plastic bins (and often free), if you are storing books in a basement or attic that may be susceptible to flooding or moisture, I’d begrudgingly go for plastic.

I hope this is helpful. So much of how we organize our possessions depends on family size, home size, personal preference, etc. I hope the largest takeaway is to keep your children’s books accessible and visible as much as possible.

Happy Reading!

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