Sophie’s Little Free Library

Photo | Sally Middlebrooks A couple and their young daughter stop to borrow books at a Little Free Library in Hyattsville.

Photo | Sally Middlebrooks
A couple and their young daughter stop to borrow books at a Little Free Library in Hyattsville.

My friend Mary has a Little Free Library in her yard, a memorial to her beloved King Charles Spaniel. His dog tags hang from the shingled roof of the birdhouse-like structure.
“They’re popping up everywhere,” she said when I visited her in a charming old Hyattsville, Maryland, neighborhood of bungalows and turn-of-the century, two-story houses. Mary’s small collection of children’s books seems always to have belonged there.

Other Little Free Libraries in Hyattsville have been donated by organizations as well as residents, and enhance the entrance of an elementary school. They’re in several parks and in front of a store on Baltimore Avenue, the main artery through Hyattsville. There are now over 60,000 Little Free Libraries throughout the world.
With the help of a friend, Mary designed and built Sophie’s Little Free Library. It is unique, the way many others are. One Little Free Library in New England is in the shape of a large fish. Another is built to resemble Noah’s Ark. But the most appealing, I think, are those in the traditional shape of a miniature cottage with a shelf or two inside and glass doors to provide access to the books. As an example of how personalized each structure can be, the knobs on the doors of Sophie’s Little Free Library are ceramic souvenirs from Mary’s trip to Italy. She added a small drawer and hides tiny treasures inside—like teensy farm animals—that children can discover.

After completing the library, Mary stocked it with recycled children’s books she had purchased at a thrift shop. With her senior discount, she’s stretched her budget even further. At times she has made Caldecott and Newbery award winners available to children in her neighborhood. The list of book titles she has offered is truly amazing. “Sometimes friends and neighbors donate books their own children have outgrown,” she added. In time, Mary applied to the Little Free Library nonprofit organization to become a registered member. For a $75 fee, she received their small sign that will be affixed to the little library building.
When she is working in her kitchen, Mary loves to watch passers-by stop at Sophie’s Little Free Library, open the glass door, and remove a book or two from the shelves. She especially enjoys one couple and their two-year-old daughter whose favorites are Eric Carle’s board books for very young children. “I like to watch the foot traffic pass my house.” Children stop and take a book on their way home from the two nearby elementary schools. She enjoys seeing a man and his son, who are occasional borrowers, select from the books for older readers. It’s not uncommon for Mary to restock daily.
When she’s working in her garden, she has an opportunity to converse with parents and their children as they linger by her picket fence to browse and borrow from Sophie’s Little Free Library. “It’s a lovely way to build community,” Mary commented. “Books have always been a part of my life. I’m trying to pass it on.”

The Little Free Library organization states, “Through Little Free Libraries, millions of books are exchanged each year, profoundly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds … They inspire a love of reading, build community, and spark creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”
As a retired children’s librarian, I can hardly wait to sponsor a Caplan family Little Free Library.