I first discovered Anne Eliza Sey on an Instagram live with author Candice Pedraza Yamnitz who spoke to Anne about her work in connecting families with libraries. Too often, parents become discouraged when trying to find wholesome books with traditional values for their children in our public library system. Parents can become convinced that those books don’t exist anymore and that people like themselves no longer have a place in their community library. Anne is here to change that perception and to reunite families and libraries. After hearing her speak, I was curious to know more and reached out for an interview.
Q. Why did you begin recommending books to parents?
A. I had a career in libraries for over eight years and began to see how the world of children’s literature was changing. Too many books were relying on a “message” instead of a story. When you have an agenda, there is a terrible lack in story. One day, while I was going through a cart of new picture books, I saw a book called “When Aiden Became A Brother.” On the cover was a little boy on his father’s shoulder holding the hand of his pregnant mother. It looked adorable at first glance and whenever a book promotes the nuclear family, I want to love it. As I read on, it became increasingly clear that Aiden became a brother not when his mother had her baby but when “he” decided he was a boy. Quite frankly, I was devastated. I felt deceived and in a way I was. So, I thought about how, if I had missed this, it would be so easy for busy parents with littles to miss it as well. That’s when I started looking out for books being published that aligned with core Christian values, even if they were not explicitly Christian books and posting them on social media.
Q. For what age groups do you recommend books?
A. I have two membership options: Library 4 Littles (ages 2-7) and Library 4 Middles (ages 8-12). I’ve had several requests to extend the age group to teens but right now I’m just trying to keep up with these groups!
Q. On what do you base your recommendations?
A. To put it simply, I recommend books that display God’s design for nature, families, and his character. I have different guidelines for different age groups because as the children get older, they are able to handle harder subjects. This does not mean I recommend books that have a liberal agenda, but ones that do have hard issues such as bullying. As long as these issues are handled in a “moral” way, I will recommend them. I always tell parents what is in the books and any considerations I may have in hopes that parents will be able to talk to their readers about what they are reading. I think this also helps with the relationship between parents and their children and builds trust.
Q. How important are local libraries in the development of our children?
A. This is a great question and I would argue that they are very important! Obviously, I am biased. I loved working in libraries. But I would say they are important because in libraries, you have access to a whole host of materials that you would not otherwise be able to get a hold of without spending a fortune. It allows your children to explore their different ideas as they grow and mature. And what I mean by that is let’s say your kiddo has a woodworking phase. It’s easy to go to the library and checkout a book on woodworking. Or solar systems. Or penguins etc. It is also an excellent place to show your children how to engage with the world in a way that is godly. I run a workshop called “Navigating the Library as a Believer.” In it, I show you ways you can easily do this. We don’t want to put our children in a bubble and the library is a good place to show them how we engage with people we disagree with in a loving manner.
Q. Have you noticed any trends in publishing that create challenges for parents seeking books for their children?
A. This is why I started Library 4 Kiddos. Books are no longer stories but about an agenda. Obviously, authors have a message they want you to understand from their work. But there is a trend where there really is no story, just pieces put together to tell you how you should affirm ideas that God calls evil. Pretty covers are put on the books that attract people to them and it is hard to distinguish between good books and bad based on the covers. There is a picture book called “Calvin” and has the cutest picture of a little boy on the cover. The description makes you think it is about a kindergartner’s first day of school. However, it actually about a transgendered child’s first day of school. The deception is getting harder and harder to distinguish at first glance, which makes it very difficult to pick out books for your children without research.
Q. Many parents rely on classic literature for good stories but these can seem outdated and unrelatable for children. Is there a modern equivalent for these books?
A. There will always be a place for classic literature. It is good for children to read the classics but there is also a time and a place for more modern literature as well. What I try to do with my membership, especially for middle grade is to find those modern equivalents. I know in my own experience, I had a period where I didn’t read because I found the classics to be unrelatable and I thought that was all I was supposed to read. I have also found that when children are told they are only supposed to read a certain type of book, it can be disheartening if they do not find them enjoyable. When we are able to find modern equivalents, meaning books with good writing and good stories, it helps children find the classics to be enjoyable and relatable.
Q. What do you look for when recommending picture books?
A. I look for stories that display God’s character, his design for nature and for families. I am also picky about illustrations. There are picture books with illustrations purely computer generated and do not show effort or depth in the pictures. (I’m looking at you, Disney).
Q. What are some of the hallmarks of children’s books you would recommend?
A. I would say the ones you probably grew up with: “Goodnight Moon,” “Harold’s Crayon,” “Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom,” anything by Richard Scarry, “The Little Engine That Could,” “Mama Do You Love Me.”
Q. Do you have lists for young adult books?
A. The short answer is “yes” but unofficially. I’ve read a lot of YA and have many favorites but it is a genre and age group that is hard to recommend since teens are all at different maturity levels.
Q. How would you like to see public libraries change to meet the needs of families?
A. The really cool things about libraries are that they should reflect the community they serve. Many families feel as if they do not have a place in the library, but the more they use the library the better the chance the library will reflect their values. Libraries are a place of ideas and many ideas are offensive. If parents have the mindset that libraries have something to offer everyone, I think it will help their library experience and in turn change the library.
Anne has always been a reader and loves talking about books. It was her love of reading that made her a perfect fit for working in public libraries, which she did for eight years. She increasingly saw a need to help parents navigate the library and started Library 4 Kiddos in May of 2021. L4K is a membership that opens quarterly for parents of Littles (ages 2-7) and Middles (ages 8-12). Every week, Anne provides book suggestions she has read and or researched and would recommend for your kiddo.
L4K opens the first week of July and you can follow her on Instagram@library_4_kiddos