E.B. White’s Letter to the Library Children

Early-1971, in an effort to attract as many youngsters to the premises as possible, Marguerite Hart — children’s librarian at the newly-opened public library in Troy, Michigan — wrote to a number of notable people with a request: to reply with a congratulatory letter, addressed to the children of Troy, in which the benefits of visiting such a library were explained. This response came from E. B. White:

April 14, 1971

Dear Children of Troy:

Your librarian has asked me to write, telling you what a library can mean to you.

A library is many things.  It’s a place to go, to get in out of the rain.  It’s a place to go if you want to sit and think.  But particularly it is a place where books live, and where you can get in touch with other people, and other thoughts, through books.  If you want to find out about something, the information is in the reference books—the dictionaries, the encyclopedias, the atlases.  If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go.  Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had.  And when you are reading a book, you and the author are alone together—just the two of you.  A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort.  A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered.  Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.

E.B. White

My goodness!  Surely E.B. White knew how important a library is, and what a precious letter this had to be.  His words flood me with ‘being there’ and feelings.  They always do.

I will forever champion for libraries, books, reading aloud, and E.B. White.


My favorite photo of E.B. White,
on the rope swing in his barn in Maine,
one of the best Garth Williams illustrations in “Charlotte’s Web.”

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in books, chapter reading, children's books, E.B. White, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, reading and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to E.B. White’s Letter to the Library Children

  1. “books are people—people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.” What a wonderful thought! A great letter to the children.

  2. Thank you so much for this. I will use E.B. White’s words in my weekly Quites for Writers slot. This is so important. I grew up in a home without books, but it didn’t matter because my mother signed me up at the librray before I was going to school.

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you liked this as much as I did. Yes, this is hugely important! A library really is everything. I grew up in a home with many books, yet my parents didn’t read to us. I was never in a library as a child. That makes reading aloud to my preschool class and hosting reading groups at the library even more important. Best to you, Bridget.

  3. What a great letter. I love the bit about being alone with the author.

  4. Carla says:

    I love this, thanks for sharing, Jennie.

  5. quiall says:

    I love his last line!! I will always think now of people who are hiding behind the covers of a book. What an incredible image!

  6. willedare says:

    I love being reminded of Garth Williams’ illustrations. I also love this reminder about how vital books and libraries are; “If you like to be told a story, the library is the place to go. Books hold most of the secrets of the world, most of the thoughts that men and women have had.” Thank you!!!

    • Jennie says:

      I dearly love his illustrations, too. Later in the school year I read aloud the first two “Little House” books, also illustrated by Garth Williams. So, he is near and dear to my heart. Aren’t he words in the letter just the best? Wow! Best to you, Will.

  7. Pingback: E.B. White’s Letter to the Library Children – Catrise

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you! I can promise you that reading “Charlotte’s Web” again as an adult will be a wonderful experience. I read it every year to my class, and it never fails that I find something new, or become incredibly moved. Yes, it’s that good.

  8. Thank you for sharing White’s letter about the wonder of libraries! Let’s go read a book!!

  9. Awesome letter, Jennie, and what a gift to the children of Troy (and everywhere). I think I told you once that when I was ten years old, I sent EB White a letter. I got a form response, and I don’t even remember what it said, but I do remember being thrilled. I love that photo and illustration. ❤

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, it is an awesome letter, and a wonderful gift to those children. How wonderful that you send E.B. White a letter, AND he replied. Even if it was a form letter, that must have been a thrill.

      The photo and illustration are my favorites. You should be a fly on the wall when I show the Garth Williams illustration to children and describe how to swing on that rope. Garth William illustrations are wonderful. He also illustrated the “Little House” books, which I read aloud to children in the spring.

  10. beetleypete says:

    So good to see that a successful writer took time out to compose such a meaningful (and timeless) letter to children. That man has my respect, Jennie.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  11. Super letter, Jennie. Thanks for sharing it.

  12. Don Ostertag says:

    Beautiful post, Jennie. In addition to his wonderful letter and his great books, anybody who swings on a rope in the barn is my kind of person/ So many memories of escaping the world by going to the hayloft to swing on the rope and to read my latest library book.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes!! The letter is one (wonderful) thing, yet swinging on a barn rope swing is another whole world, where books and libraries live and memories are made – the best memories. Thank you, Don.

  13. Ritu says:

    What a wonderful letter!

  14. srbottch says:

    Wonderful comments. I particularly like the line about ‘being alone with the author’. I loved the library as a kid, getting lost with the Landmark series of books. Then, in college I loved the library where I’d get lost among the many aisles and corners with my girlfriend. I’m still with her after 52 years. The difference is that now she tells me to ‘get lost’. 🥸😂

    • Jennie says:

      I love your memories (and humor), Steve. A library is truly a special place. Yes, the comments were wonderful. That speaks volumes for the writing of E.B. White.

  15. Jim Borden says:

    what a wonderful story.

    if my wife and I move when we retire, we have told ourselves that one of the requriements for wherever we live is that we are within walking distance to a library.

    they are the crown jewel of our communities.

  16. petespringerauthor says:

    You’re preaching to the choir here, Jennie. When I taught 2nd grade, one of my regular field trips was to the library. About 50% of the kids already had a library card by that point, but what a magical moment when the other kids got their first library card. E.B’s letter is great! Thanks for sharing.

    • Jennie says:

      I knew you would be the choir, Pete. 🙂 I can personally understand the thrill the other 50% experienced. My first real library trip was with my own children. I can still recall the books that were on top of the shelves, front facing. E.B. White’s letter brings the magic alive. Yes, it is wonderful!

  17. bosssybabe says:

    Books are good company. ❤️📚 Indeed.
    I grew up spending lots of time in libraries with my mom. I loved looking through all the books available to read, leaf through and take home.

    I’m a huge supporter of libraries and the accessibility of literature to children and youth of all socio-economic backgrounds. ❤️ Thanks for sharing E. B.’s inspiring words. 😊

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, books and libraries are a treasure to everyone! I’m glad you have fond memories from when you were a child. E.B.’s words were inspiring and magical. Thanks, Jen!

  18. Hello Jennie, what a lovely letter, thank you for sharing it here.

  19. Darlene says:

    What an amazing letter! Libraries are so important. Often a place of refuge too.

  20. dgkaye says:

    How fantastic! A letter to treasure through time and classrooms. ❤

  21. That’s a great letter. I love the library since Covid I’ve not been. I need to fix that!

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