Treat Your Shelf

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One mom’s quest to awaken her little ones’ love of reading at the local library


DESPITE THE ADVICE from my pediatrician, reading to my infant daughter felt a little ridiculous. 

Sitting in the corner of the nursery, I dutifully turned the pages of board books by Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry. Yet, despite my narrative flourishes and spot-on sound effects, I could scarcely hold Julia’s attention compared to her toy box, pop-up tent or even my necklace.

As an avid lifelong reader, I admit I was also eager to introduce a love of literature to my daughter as soon as possible. I had started collecting editions of my favorites, like “Madeleine,” before Julia was born. I had asked for books with a commemorative scrawl inside the front cover in lieu of cards for our baby shower. 

Yet when she showed any interest, it seemed more for the sensory content (cue slobbered-on covers or touch-and-feel tomes) than for the story. 

Despite the fact she was still in diapers, I couldn’t help but wonder: would she ever love reading as much as I do? I steeled myself to accept the answer could be no. 

“Parents often ask me, ‘How do I get my child to read?’ My answer has been and will always be: Let them read what interests them.”Parents often ask me, ‘How do I get my child to read?’

Tia Johnson, senior library manager at Bull Street Library

I figured it was time to bring in backup, so I turned to a time-honored institution: the Savannah Live Oak Public Library System. 

I’d long admired the neoclassical design of the Bull Street Library built in 1916 as I sipped my café au lait at Foxy Loxy across the street. The grand columns and the stone steps beaconed in the afternoon sun — and nothing excited my interest more than “Make Books Thy Comrades” etched in stone on its opulent façade. 

As my daughter and I entered through the portico and hooked a left past the check-in desk, my toddler’s eyes lit up at the sight of the built-in storybook castle and the toy stations scattered throughout the children’s area. She never walks anywhere so much as runs, so I gritted my teeth as she started to play hide and seek among the stacks, and steeled myself for the hush of a librarian. 

But instead, what greeted me were warm smiles. Since then, Julia has been joined by her younger sister Genevieve, and over the course of hot summer afternoons and rainy days, in every season and type of weather, we’ve found a welcoming space open to all at the Bull Street Library.

Rather than attempting to get the girls to be quiet, I’ve realized the library is a place for them to explore and discover. Programs like Family and Baby Storytime, Daddy and Me, Coloring Café, Game Day and forthcoming STEAM offerings cater to the needs of a variety of families, encouraging literacy and collaboration, explains Tia Johnson, senior library manager at Bull Street Library. 

Sure, my children, who are not yet at reading age, often find the train tables more interesting. But along the way, I’ve found the secret to sparking their love of books.

“Parents often ask me, ‘How do I get my child to read?’” Johnson says. “My answer has been and will always be: Let them read what interests them.”


As the library staff have watched the girls grow over the past few years, they’ve led them through the treasure trove. We’ve sampled all kinds of stories we don’t have at home, and every time our shelves need a refresh, off to the library we go. 

We sorely missed our special place and its people while it was temporarily closed last fall for renovations. At 100-plus years old, the building required a new roof to better protect the space, preserve the collections and ensure future generations can continue to enjoy the library.

Before the doors closed in September, Julia had grabbed a book from the free shelf on our last visit. Little did I know then that I was signing up to read “Donkeys Can’t Take Bubble Baths!” 1,000 times and counting. Yet, as I watch her turning the pages and murmuring the story to herself from memory, I couldn’t be more excited for her. Our tastes might diverge, but she’s finding out what books have always meant to me: not only a portal to other realms, but an anchor in the here and now. A place you can return to over and over.  

My thoughts are interrupted to see my youngest, not quite 2, toddling toward me with a treasured tome in hand, asking for “another book.” 

CHECK THIS OUT: Live Oak Public Libraries is a system of 16 library locations serving Chatham, Effingham and Liberty Counties. With a library card, locals can check out books, access digital resources online, get passes to museums and much more. Library cards are free to anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Georgia. To register, visit your local library to fill out an application and show your ID. Learn more at

Two boys sitting at a big round table in front of bookshelves and peeking out from behind books
Georgia Historical Society’s Research Center / Photo by Michael Schalk

A Local National Treasure

Located on the corner of Whitaker and Gaston streets across from Forsyth Park since 1876, the Georgia Historical Society’s Research Center houses one of the oldest and most influential library and archival collections in the nation. Comprised of historic Hodgson Hall (1876), the attached Abrahams Archival Annex (1970), and the new archival wing (2021), the GHS Research Center preserves a growing collection of Georgia and American history, including 5 million manuscripts, 100,000 photographs, 30,000 architectural drawings, 20,000 rare and non-rare books, and thousands of maps, portraits, and artifacts, including an original draft copy of the United States Constitution from 1787. Hodgson Hall itself is a treasure of the Georgia Historical Society’s collection and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the GHS Research Center continues to serve historians, authors, genealogists, students, attorneys, filmmakers, architects, poets, artists, actors, and others who seek a greater understanding of our shared past.

— Colleen Ann McNally

This story and much more in the January/February issue of Savannah magazine. Get your copy today!