I was heading down the stairs as the boy and his mother were heading up. He carried one video game. I lugged a tote bag piled high with books, far more books than the bag was technically designed to carry. The straps were straining, but they held.
“You can get one book,” I heard his mother tell him. “Do you hear me? One game and one book. That’s it.”
One book? Who could possibly go to the library and get just one book? I felt panicked at the thought of choosing only one book among the thousands of possibilities—or even from the thirty I currently had in my bag. How could I possibly know today what I might want to read tomorrow? What if I don’t like the book once I start it? What if I finish it too quickly? I need options.
I tried to imagine some good reason for giving a child a limit of one book. And I couldn’t come up with one scenario where that made sense. It’s true that he might not have time to finish more than one book before the next library trip. But piles of possibility are part of the fun of checking out books from the library.
Of course, I do place a limit on how many books I check out. It’s a simple formula: how many can I carry? And that number is probably far greater than you think.
The library itself also places a limit—100 books per card. And yes, I do sometimes max out my card. In my defense, I bring piles of picture books to my classroom, I frequently check out books for my students to borrow, I myself usually have 20-30 books on an active TBR list, and I select books for my family as well. But the beauty of a library card is that you don’t need any defense for how many books you borrow.
Sometimes my students ask me how many books they can check out from my lending library.
“As many you like,” I say.
I figure they know better how many books they need this week than I do.
And I notice a pattern. As their interest in reading grows, they want to check out more books. At the beginning of the semester, it’s strictly one book at a time.
“I only need one,” they tell me as I try to press three or four books on them.
But after a few weeks, they’re taking those three or four and still pulling more titles from the cart to consider.
“This looks good too,” they say. “I think I have room in my backpack for just one more?”
Take what you can carry, I tell them. That’s the best way to choose.
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