• Britt Riner

What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?

You can tell a lot about a person by the books on her bookshelves, so we make sure the ones we keep reflect well. Trust that you and yours are in for a good read if it’s coming from Primerrily’s Bookshelf.

If knowledge is power, then books are the avenue to that power. Books can be so powerful that throughout history, people have wanted to both burn them in bonfires and preserve them with ultimate safeguards. Books aren’t just full of ideas; they are vehicles for ideas. Since the founding of the first libraries in 300 B.C., books have transformed the way people think, act, and lead.

The Primerrily Crew echoes President Harry Truman's belief that “Not all readers become leaders, but all leaders must be readers.” For that reason, the selections we read to and with our kids are not chosen lightly. We want our children not only to love reading, but also to love learning ideas -- true, good, and meaningful ideas.

The Primerrily Crew echoes President Harry Truman's belief that “Not all readers become leaders, but all leaders must be readers.”

When we began reading some “trending” children’s books to our kids, we were less than satisfied (to put it mildly). Where was the plot of the story, let alone the moral? Where were the characters who displayed traits worth emulating? Where were the discussion opportunities for helping our kids become better neighbors and citizens? Sure, we want our kids to giggle at story time, but we also want them to walk away with concepts that will motivate them to pursue positive habits. If we used these questions as litmus tests for what merits a “good children’s book,” even some of the most perennial gifting favorites came up vapid at best, misleading at worst. If we want the best for our kids (and oh, yes we do!), we can do way better.

Enter, Primerrily’s Bookshelf. When you pick a book from our shelf, you can trust that it’s been vetted for against the following standards:

  • Show main characters with desirable character traits

  • Present characters who work hard to overcome challenging circumstances

  • Possess a clear moral or lesson

  • Encourage kids to pursue further learning and/or take positive action

  • Provide discussion opportunities between reader and child about American values or traditions

If for some reason we choose to share a book that doesn’t meet all of this criteria, we will be clear about it and use that very “gap” to address a deeper point. The goal of Primerrily’s Bookshelf is to equip you with stories of the true, the good, and the beautiful as well as the fun, the creative, and the practical. All this to help you teach your kids sound morals, support American values, and promote ideas that lead to human flourishing.

Case in point: Take this tiny tale that shows how a small story can have a big impact on a little person.

Last fall, a friend gifted us the life-changing book “Paloma Wants to be Lady Freedom” by author Rachel Campos Duffy. My almost four-year-old was captivated, responding to each of the following concepts contained in just a few pages:

The father of a little girl named Paloma becomes a U.S. citizen.

What does becoming a citizen mean?”

Her family travels in a minivan to Washington, DC.

When could our family take a road trip adventure there?”

She gets separated from her parents while visiting the U.S. Capitol Dome and finds help from a police officer.

“What is our family’s plan if we ever lose each other? Who can we trust for help?”

She met a giant statue of a strong, beautiful woman.

“What do the statue’s helmet and shield represent?”

She encountered the idea of freedom.

“What does it mean to be free?”

This book rocked our whole family’s world. Not only was it a daily read-request, it also became the doorway to new, tangible life experiences. My daughter implored me to dress as Lady Freedom for Halloween . . . I did. This also gave me the chance to craft a DIY costume with her. It certainly made for conversation as we trick-or-treated, providing a great opportunity for her to recap the story to others.

Knowing that my husband and I had close friends in Washington, DC, she begged for our family to take a trip there. We ended up flying -- but then rented a minivan for good measure. As a result, the minivan to her is like a Ford Mustang to a 16-year-old boy who just got his license. Our trip was built around the premise of seeing Lady Freedom “in person.” We learned she was as tall as a giraffe, and we got to stand right next to her to feel just how tall she really is.

To this day, she still writes with the Lady Freedom pen we purchased at U.S. Capitol gift shop, and she has frequently asked to paint the small marble resin of Lady Freedom who watches over our living room (my repeated answer is “no”). And as if that weren’t enough, we gave our third baby, born two months later, the same name as the main protagonist.

More memorable than the costume and more enriching than the trip were all the “in-between” conversations prompted by this one book. In particular, the conversations around freedom and what exactly it means to be free, including the opportunity to live, learn, work, and worship as you choose, in peace. Our “casual” chats also noted heavy truths, like how freedom requires brave people to stand up for it -- from members of the military to Rosa Parks. How becoming a U.S. citizen is a legal process for those not born on American soil. How fortunate we are to have been born American -- and how we welcome those from other countries who share American ideals of freedom and want to become our American brothers and sisters.

The effects of this book linger. When we were making our Gratitude Pumpkin this week, I asked her what she was thankful for. “Freedom” was one of her answers. She’s not even five years old yet!

While of course I think my daughter is super-special, her attraction to freedom isn’t just because she is unique. It’s because books like this, buttressed by parental conversation and activity, have shown her that our free country is beautiful, good, and always striving for better. With the right guidance discussing freedom with intention, celebration, and history, Primerrily is confident that every young American is capable of appreciating this truth. If the next generation grows up loving our freedoms to learn (read), to work (earn), to pray (or not), and even to disagree (with civility), our country will inch closer to becoming more united and stronger because of it.

If the next generation grows up loving our freedoms to learn (read), to work (earn), to pray (or not), and even to disagree (with civility), our country will inch closer to becoming more united and stronger because of it.