Best Books for Kids » Ages 3-5

The Best Books about Libraries for 4-8 Year Olds

recommended by Bahram Rahman

The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman & Gabrielle Grimard (illustrator)

The Library Bus
by Bahram Rahman & Gabrielle Grimard (illustrator)

Read

Libraries provide a space for children to read for pleasure and discover the transformative power of books. Children’s author Bahram Rahman shares his favourite picture books about libraries for children age 4-8, and explains why book-recommending algorithms cannot replace librarians.

Interview by Tuva Kahrs

The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman & Gabrielle Grimard (illustrator)

The Library Bus
by Bahram Rahman & Gabrielle Grimard (illustrator)

Read
Buy all books

Libraries are clearly close to your heart. The first book you wrote is a picture book for 4-8 year olds about a mobile library in Afghanistan. Can libraries retain their relevance now that people increasingly do their reading online?

All the books I have picked for this interview in some way touch upon the importance of education and literacy. We are living in a diverse and interconnected world. So, it’s important to provide children with literature that is relevant, to bring diverse voices and introduce kids to all kinds of books. And, of course, librarians play many roles. They are role models and educators. Libraries are a place of comfort for all of us. I am a bit conflicted about how much our lives will change if we no longer have the physical library. I have many memories attached to the physical object of a book. Moving to a more virtual space with digital books, what will be the future of libraries and all the good things that come with the physical spaces we call libraries? I honestly get scared that some algorithm will pick our books. I think it will be a big loss for all humanity if we don’t have libraries and librarians.

Let’s talk about your first pick of the best books about libraries for 4-8 year olds, award-winning Library Lion.

I have to admit that it was hard to pick just five books about libraries. There are so many fantastic ones. And if you ask me tomorrow, I will pick different ones. But Library Lion is one of my absolute favourites. It is such an imaginative and creative take on a classic children’s story, which I admire. It has a lot of hidden messages that adults want to communicate to children; and it is done in the most child-friendly way possible. What really resonated with me was the message that libraries are community places for everyone, and that they should be welcoming. Sometimes in our local library, we will see individuals that don’t look like us; they might not talk like us. This book shows that we should be open-minded not only as a community but as individuals.

It also shows the importance of law and rules. You need to have rules to protect our rights to access public spaces, but sometimes we forget what a moral good is and whether it is required by the law. The writing really captures that tension well. One of the things that stood out to me with this book: teaching children to respect the rules, but at the same time to see when rules are not working for us, when we need to change and modify the rules based on greater needs.

That rules should exist for a reason?

Yes. Sometimes for children, it’s not obvious when you explain rules. They want to know why. So, having that conversation in a book is quite exciting. And the text is humorous as well. Even when the head librarian is injured and in pain, she is still sticking with one rule: no running in the library.

I really enjoy the different practical elements of the book too. It provides a good introduction to children about different things that happen in a library: storytime, searching for books, helping someone who cannot find a book, helping the librarian… There is a mix of all these good things in one place. And, of course, the illustrations. They are so beautiful. They took me back to my own childhood and some of the books that I used to read. It’s a very warm book, and it has so much detail in it. There’s one spread with the entire energy that you will find in a local library, where children are doing things and the librarians are putting things together, and it is amazing! We do need books that talk to children in that way and provide that image.

Let’s move on to your second pick of the best books about libraries for 4-8 year olds, Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind.

This is such a powerful book. Sometimes I find nonfiction books for children slightly difficult, lacking that child’s voice. But this book, the way it is pulled together, is quite amazing. It is about one of the darkest times in North American history – something that hasn’t been discussed much in children’s literature. We see how institutions put in place policies to systematically discriminate against or prosecute their own citizens. In some ways, when I was reading this book, I was taken to Afghanistan, and how the Taliban government is enabling policies to limit women’s rights. This book gets to how governments create a policy that systematically isolates their own citizens, which is heartbreaking. I find this book interesting as a social justice piece of work, if you want to discuss that with children.

There were also some really interesting parts about the role of librarians. I think we forget that in addition to their normal job, librarians are community advocates, they have that close relationship with the community. When you go to a public library, that is the only place you can actually see the composition of the community, the demography and socioeconomic status of the community. You will see it all playing in front of you. This book highlights and talks about that role of librarians. Children find comfort in their relationship with their librarian, or teacher or educator. We all have someone from whom we seek that kind of comfort, and that aspect was portrayed beautifully in this book.

It is worth mentioning that Write to Me is based on a true story, the librarian — whose name was Clara Breed — really existed.

Yes, that is so amazing. It’s one individual standing against the system. One person’s goodness is trying to remedy the systematic injustice that is happening, and that is quite powerful and moving.

I like her practical approach. There’s lobbying, but at the same time she sends the kids books and art and craft materials to give them something to do in the internment camps.

That’s so beautifully captured. When I was reading this book and looking at the pictures and reading more on the internet about those events, it was mind-blowing. I really congratulate the writer and illustrator of the book. I think they have done a wonderful job.

This is also an excellent book if you want to talk to children about looking at primary sources in history, such as the cards written to the librarian by kids in the internment camps.

Another theme that is quite relevant in the book, at least in North America, is that there is a lot of anti-Asian discrimination and hatred going on. This is a perfect book to raise the conversation around that, at least for readers aged six and up. I highly recommend this book.

Let’s talk about your next pick of the best books about libraries for 4-8 year olds: Tomás and The Library Lady.

This is another book inspired by a true story. It is a quiet story but very powerful. What I really admire, again, is the role of librarians and libraries in providing a safe place, a sanctuary for everyone in the community, no matter their legal status. I lived in Canada for five years as a refugee but the libraries didn’t care. I was able to use all the resources that are out there. So, I connected with this book at a personal level.

There are so many elements to this book that I like, including the storytelling part of it. Some cultures might have stories written and some might have more of an oral tradition of storytelling, like the stories we hear from our grandfathers and grandmothers in Farsi in Afghanistan. This transfer of stories from one generation to the next and addition of new stories adds to the collective memory of a family. I did enjoy the illustration a lot, too, it is warm and detailed in a classic style.

The library is somewhere Tomás goes by himself, sent by his grandfather to learn new stories to share, it helps develop his independence.

We could talk about so many aspects of this story. Of all the books I’ve picked for this interview, this book is probably most true, in essence, to the concept of how libraries are open and accessible to everyone. We know librarians are underpaid, but they work for the love of doing what they do and reaching people in the community. It is like a thread between all these books that always comes back – connecting with readers, whether they’re children or adults … or a lion.

Let’s talk about your next pick of the best books about libraries for 4-8 year olds: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which is based on an Academy Award-winning animation film.

Honestly, this is a book for everyone. It is about us, as individuals, having agency in our own life and the things we do. Because, ultimately, we are the ones writing our own stories. Libraries provide the space, the key to finding ourselves — reading books and connecting with them. Stories become the platform for Mr Morris Lessmore to leave a miserable version of himself. We get stuck in the things that we do out of habit, that don’t necessarily make us happy. We do so much for other emotions — including greed or ego – or for other people, forces that drive us far from who we truly are and the things that make us happy. We get to a point when we forget about who we were as children and how we can connect to that version of ourselves. This book brings that backstory, which really resonated with me.

The book is about all elements in the life cycle, including having a legacy, and the story people want to tell about themselves and how they want to be remembered. It’s a beautiful book, with beautiful artwork. There are some depressing moments, but it is written in such an honest way and that honesty takes away the depressing element so that it’s a joyful celebration of life.

Our stories as humans need both joy and sorrow to be complete, do you think that’s part of the message?

Yes, absolutely. When we have some bad days, it’s good to be reminded for a few minutes of how to come back to our true selves. This was an animation film, but I just can’t see it as anything other than a book. The story is so good, it flows like a melody with perfect transitions between the pages.

Let’s move on to your final pick of the best books about libraries for 4-8 year olds: The Lonely Book.

This is another very charming book. It captures the essence of that relationship we have as a child, and later on as an adult, with books. It’s like a genuine friendship. We all have memories of getting our first library card, the first book we picked… I remember the days I went to our local library in Kabul and I was so excited and had to be told to wait and share with others, that I couldn’t take the entire library home at once. This book shows that excitement.

What I found quite imaginative is that the story is told from a different perspective. It is about how the book – which also could be a person you love – might feel when we move on to something else or when they are not as important in our lives as they used to be. It brought this idea, which I really loved, about reviving a memory that is always there in its truest form. It doesn’t matter how far we go and how much we forget about ourselves; those memories will always bring us back to who we are. I don’t have a lot of things from my own childhood, but I still have one or two children’s magazines. In some ways, they are how I ensure that there is a connection, other than my memories, to that other person I was as a child. You carry those books or stories as a token to keep that memory alive. I really enjoyed how The Lonely Book focuses on that relationship – the relationship between children and books.

Interview by Tuva Kahrs

July 19, 2022

Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at editor@fivebooks.com

Support Five Books

Five Books interviews are expensive to produce. If you've enjoyed this interview, please support us by .

Bahram Rahman

Bahram Rahman

Bahram Rahman is a children’s author from Afghanistan who grew up during the civil war and the first Taliban regime. He came to Canada as a refugee in 2012, where he now works for the Ontario Ministry of Health as a senior policy advisor.