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Letters to Children from Cultural Icons on the Love of Libraries

A reading manifesto from Dr. Seuss, or what space ships have to do with fairy godmothers and civil rights.

In the spring of 1971, just before the opening of Michigan’s first public library in Troy, an audacious librarian by the name of Marguerite Hart set out to inspire the city’s youngsters to read and love the library. So she dreamed up a letter-writing campaign, inviting dozens of cultural luminaries — writers, actors, musicians, politicians, artists — to share what made reading special for them and speak to the importance of libraries. She got 97 letters in return, spanning 50 states and a multitude of occupations, including notes from such icons as Dr. Seuss, Neil Armstrong, E.B. White and Isaac Asimov. The collection became known as Letters to the Children of Troy and is available online in its entirety, from beloved children’s book illustrator Edward Ardizzone’s four-page hand-written letter, to the charming doodle of artist Hardie Gramatky, to the marvelous letterheads of various state senators. Gathered here are a few favorites from it, with a semi-secret wish that some thoughtful indie publisher would turn this into a beautiful book that belongs in a library.

Dear Children of Troy

Your library is more full of good things than a candy store or a pirate’s chest. What you get from books is not only pleasurable and valuable but it lasts all the rest of your life.

I send my love to all of you.” ~ Ben Spock

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… A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your questions 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

Dear Boys and Girls:

Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you — and most of all, a gateway to a better and happier and more useful life.” ~ Isaac Asimov

This note from the Mayor of Cleveland makes one wish today’s government would be full of more people like him.

As a young person, I was encouraged by my mother, my teachers and librarians to read for recreation, for information and for knowledge. Let me encourage you, as they encouraged me; for this country, despite all its failures and present inconsistencies, does promise and deliver much to those who prepare themselves.” ~ Carl B. Stokes

Here’s Helen Gurley Brown, one of the longest-tenured magazine editors-in-chief in history, spearheading Cosmopolitan for 32 years, also the author of the 1962 cult-classic, Sex and the Single Girl:

Dear Children:

Did you ever think of all the people you could be meeting at your library? Why — acrobats, singers, baseball players, knights in armour, kings, queens, elephants, dolls, jacks-in-the-box, angels, fairy godmothers, actors, astronauts, tuba-players — in fact, anyone you wish, through books!

You’ll never forget these friends of fantasy-land once you know what warm companions they are. Happy exploring!” ~ Helen Gurley Brown

And the governor of Vermont, with a timely sentiment on empathy and civil rights just as women and blacks were beginning to enter the workforce with critical mass:

Read! It is nourishing, civilizing, worthwhile. Read! It destroys our ignorance and our prejudices. Read! It teaches us to understand our fellowman better and, once we understand him, it will be much easier to love him and work with him in a daily more complex society.” ~ Deane Davis

My favorite has to be Neil Armstrong:

Knowledge is fundamental to all human achievement and progress. It is both the key and the quest that advances mankind. The search for knowledge is what brought men to the moon; but it took knowledge already acquired to make it possible to get there.

How we use the knowledge we gain determines our progress on earth, in space or on the moon. Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.” ~ Neil Armstrong

Explore the full collection in the Letters to the Children of Troy archive and, while you’re at it, consider donating to your public library. (Every month, I allocate a portion of Brain Pickings donations to the New York Public Library.)

Published August 8, 2011




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