The Libraries That Time (and Budgets) Forgot

Michael Winerip's On Education: At Poor Schools, Time Stops on the Library's Shelves is a deeply depressing story, and the sort of journalism we need but don't get nearly as often as we need.

It seems that in poor neighborhoods — predominantly black neighborhoods — the schools have been starving the libraries. The books in the school library mostly date from before the schools were integrated. Not only do they lack the biographies students need for Black History Month, but they are innocent of four decades of modern technology, politics and literature. They don't even have Harry Potter — the books that are credited with sparking a new generation of readers.

What better example of our national shame of unequal class-based (which often in effect means race-based) public education?

That said, I do have one tiny criticism of the article: do not make fun of Freddy the Pig.

Mr. Winerip pokes gentle fun at the Edward Williams Elementary school library for having a full set of Freddy the Pig books. Perhaps he doesn't know what those books are. While no substitute for modernity, the 26 Freddy books by Walter R. Brooks are one of the great series of American children's literature. Freddy and his friends are gentle and thoughtful. He writes bad poetry, and makes mistakes, but things work out in the end. The books manage to explain a great deal about the world (well, as it was 60 years ago), without ever seeming to do so. And they're fun.

The Freddy books were among my favorite books when I was in elementary school (our school library, in a fancy private school, had a full set…). When we had kids, I was disappointed to learn they were so long out of print that they were hard to find in used books stores. Our local public library only had a few.

Fortunately, the Internet came to the rescue. First I found the Friends of Freddy, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of the writings of Walter R. Brooks and his literary alter ego, Freddy the Pig. And through them I learned of the Overlook Press's program of republishing the entire Freddy series. My kids love them — and I enjoyed reading them aloud to them when they were smaller.

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