What draws a child to a particular story? As an elementary school librarian, I often observe the distinctly different ways that individual children respond to certain stories or characters.  One child will hear or read a story which resonates and will borrow a book over and over again, all the way through fifth grade, while another child connects deeply to another book, another story. A character that a child relates to may be a child or it may be a blue frog reaching to help a peach or a doughnut hoping to find a purpose in order to save himself from being eaten.  Children find special meaning in certain stories, the stories that stick. When I reflect upon this, I think of three stories that were special to me as a child.

The Outside Cat, a picture book written by Jane Thayer (pseudonym of Catherine Woolley) and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky, was my first book love. I still have it and share it with my students so that they can see the intensity with which this book was loved. It was not a library book, which is good because it is barely still bound, colored in, a bit ripped, and an example of what one should never do to a book. And yet…in its ragged state, it holds the story that still draws me in. Samuel, the outside cat, is determined to get inside. He finally manages to get inside only to discover that the family and cat who were living there have moved. Now Samuel wants out, but he’s trapped in an empty house. Samuel is rewarded with acceptance and insider status after another family moves in. This story assures the child reader that eventually outsiders find their rightful places. The simple story holds so much hope – and truth, too, because just when Samuel thinks he’s figured out a problem – whoops! – another one presents itself. But in the end, there’s a sense of belonging, a cozy, happy resolution to a story that I relished and wanted to read again and again.


Noel Streatfield’s The Children on the Top Floor was a chapter book I found while looking for a book to read in my elementary school library. I can still picture the spot in the school library where it was shelved, and I remember how often I gravitated to this spot. I looked for this book just to know it was there; I loved the story. On Christmas Eve, a TV personality, Malcolm Master, tells his audience that he wishes he had children in his life, and four babies are left on his doorstep. The children are named after nursery rhyme characters and raised on the top floor of his house by his own nanny. They grow up apart from Malcolm Master, but after a series of accidents and problems, they all find a way to truly become a family.


And in the nonfiction section, the book I remember borrowing repeatedly was The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss. I marveled that one couple (really one woman, since it turned out that Helen often ignored her husband’s hesitance to keep adopting children) could be so willing to continually expand the parameters of the family circle. This was not the only book on this subject that I was drawn to; I loved Cheaper by the Dozen and pretty much any book about large families.

As I consider these books from the perspective of time, I can see the connections clearly. At the time, I just knew that I loved these stories, but now I can see a pattern, a theme that’s pretty obvious: a cat wanting a home, four children forming an unlikely family and a woman adopting many children. These stories were nurturing and sustaining. A sense of belonging is a wonderful thing for a child (and any living creature). The library provided me with a sense of belonging, and certain stories also helped. It seems that I was in search of family and already understood intuitively that a sense of family can be hard-won but achievable and that families are not necessarily what you are born into.

None of these three books are in my current school library collection. And that’s OK. All three are dated and two are out-of-print. But other stories send similar messages and speak to children in new ways through new characters. I’m thinking of Moose in Z is for Moose, Ivan in The One and Only Ivan, Deza in The Mighty Miss Malone and Auggie in Wonder. Children recognize themselves and the world around them through these characters and stories as the reading life extends into each generation. With the help of writers, librarians, parents, publishers, and anyone who cares to provide stories for children, each child finds the stories that are special to him or to her. Through the stories that stick, we learn who we are and we learn that why we read may matter as much as what we read.


Susan Polos is the school librarian at Mt. Kisco Elementary School in Mt. Kisco, NY.  She currently lives with her husband and assorted young adults who come and go. She started a blog, which can be found at , because she wanted to be a Nerdy Book Club blogger. She has thus far not kept up with her blog, but she promises to write another entry soon. You can also find her on Twitter @spolos .