The Beauty of the Library

Lurline Sweet
3 min readMar 1, 2023

When we fall in love with books, they are usually read to us: by a librarian, grandparent, or other adult. We can tell that we love reading because we experience books even before we can read words independently. A child does not need to know phonics or letter sounds to enjoy a good book. Some children will want to sit and listen, others turn the pages, and others will not want to sit and listen at all. Some children will not want to listen at age 2 but will want to listen at age 6. Individuals vary.

Once a child has gone to school, and sometimes much earlier, they learn that libraries are a place where they can find books that interest them. Some people like to read picture books, some chapter books, some graphic novels, some non-fiction. Some people like to read “beach reads,” horror, suspense, fantasy, romance, science fiction, or great literature. Very few people like every genre. Many (or most) people like at least one of these. In school, teachers may ask (or require) students to all read the same book for a month or two, and some students will love it while others despise the book. Teachers try to vary the genre and the protagonist’s identity (like boy or girl, for example), so no one despises two or three class reads in a row.

The library is the ultimate resource, more than any classroom or book club, because it gives everyone (young and old) choices. What if we could offer the same for mathematics?

When young readers choose a book, they begin with the cover, the title, a loved series, or a recommendation. Have you ever chosen your math like that? Have any children in your life chosen their mathematics? How did they choose?

“Mathematics is different,” you may say. “You need to learn addition before you multiply. You need to multiply before you do long division.”

Yes, you are correct. And here I ask you to consider reading differently than you may have before (unless you are a kindergarten or first grade teacher): Reading also has a required progression. Some people teach themselves to read, or so it seems. Others need years of guidance from an expert. The progression goes something like this:

  1. Letter sounds. In English, some letters have one sound; others have five sounds.
  2. Short vowel sounds
  3. Consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) words with short vowels like “hop,” “pip,” and “mat.”
  4. Long vowel sounds
  5. Words with magic “e”. The magic “e” makes vowels into long vowels that say their name like in the words “hope,” “pipe,” and “mate.”
  6. Consonant blends (like dr, bl, tr, etc.)
  7. Consonant-consonant-vowel-consonant (CCVC) words, which include consonant blends, like “trip,” “drip,” and “drat”
  8. Vowel blends (like ai and ee)
  9. Words with vowel blends like “braid” and “breed”

There are more than just these nine steps of phonics. For example, students learn about suffixes (“ing,” “ed,” “es,” etc.) and later French words (like “discussion” and “direction”). The French came into Anglo-Saxon due to the Norman Conquest in 1066 CE. Later in elementary school, students learn Greek-derived words like “phonics” and “microscope.”

Teaching phonics requires in-depth knowledge of English sounds, the order to teach them, and the repetition needed for the learner.

Taking a child to the library does not require any of these. The child self-selects the correct level (or the adult reads to the child). The difference between math and reading is that there is no adult read-aloud in math, per say. For the past hundred years, children have chosen library books. If they were too difficult, the child chose not to read them. If the child had mastered those sounds, the child reads the book themselves. If the book is a teeny bit difficult, the child asks an adult or another child for help occasionally.

How could we create a similar system for math?

Continue to our follow-up article “A Library of Mathematics”