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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Library Lions in Books for Kids

It’s not widely known but here is a true fact about my current job – I don’t work in the big stone library with the big stone lions anymore.  Surprising, right?  I still have my job, it’s true.  But about a year ago I was moved with the rest of my department to Long Island City where I’ve been happily ensconced ever since.  I like LIC but I do occasionally miss working behind world famous felines.

Their official names are Patience and Fortitude, though they were originally named Lord and Lady Astor.  That fact, as well as many others, can be found in the book Top Cats: The Life and Times of the New York Public Library Lions by Susan G. Larkin.  It’s a book dedicated entirely to them but it’s hardly the only book to contain them.  Over the years I’ve noticed many a children’s book that has made mention, even if it was brief, of the lions.

Up for debate is the book Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen.  My system’s Library Shop does a swift business with that title even though it never directly references either Patience or Fortitude.  However, that is not to say that the big stone fellows were not without influence on the title.  Said Michelle recently:

“My dad likes to tell me about the first time we walked by the 42nd street library when I was little, when he pointed out the lions to me and I was immediately and thoroughly enchanted. I didn’t write my picture book Library Lion until many years later, of course, but I believe that initial connection between the lions and the magic of the library stayed with me and helped to inspire the story. Those majestic stone guardians were (and remain!) such a welcoming presence to all who wish to enter; I wanted to capture that feeling of welcome in my book, and it seemed only natural that the visitor in question should be a lion himself.”

On that note, here is a list (by no means exhaustive) of some of the children’s books that take a trip to NYC’s most famous library and its lions:

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin

What starts as a routine research trip in the Rose Reading Room of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building turns into a raucous underwater adventure. If you’ve ever wondered what the main branch of NYPL would look like if whales crashed through its windows and the entire edifice sank to the bottom of the sea, now is your chance to find out.

Hilary and the Lions by Frank DeSaix, ill. Debbie Durland DeSaix

Patience and Fortitude get to star in their own picture book this time. When a visitor to the city loses her parents, she finds that at night those stalwart guardians of knowledge are willing to carry her back to the people she loves.

I’m Going to New York to Visit the Lions by Harriet Ziefert, ill. Tanya Roitman

Originally published in 2005 (before the Children’s Center at 42nd Street had a chance to move into its current location in 2008) the book isn’t entirely up-to-date on its library info. Apparently the whole building is gilded in gold and people “cannot take the books home”. Now with the addition of the children’s circulating collection, books can indeed be checked out of the ground floor location.

A Walk in New York by Salvatore Rubbino

Take a walking tour of the city and be sure you catch a glimpse of the front of the Stephen A. Schwarzman building when you do! You just can’t miss those lions.

Inside Outside Book of Libraries by Julie Cummins and Roxie Munro

Need I say more?

So fess up, folks.  I know I’m missing stuff.  Can you tell what it might be?

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. My hometown library in Watertown, NY has lions out front and whenever the front doors were open (Ahhh the challenges of marble staircases in Northern NY!), I would try to give them a pat. When I was little and these things were more or less allowed, we climbed on them. When I went on my first NYC visit at age 31, I told my husband we had to go to the library. I didn’t tell him that I mostly wanted to see those lions!!

  2. My daughter and I used to read the Hilary and the Lions title. I remember we liked it a lot.

  3. The lions make an appearance at the end of The Search for WondLa.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I thought about including novels as well, but ultimately decided to stick with picture books. But the WondLa lions are great. There’s no image of them, is there? I remember there being one but when I checked recently no go.

  4. One of my favorites is Delia Sherman’s story “CATNYP,” about an alternate version of the NYPL. The story appears in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s THE FAERY REEL, and helped inspire Delia’s novels CHANGELING and THE MAGIC MIRROR OF THE MERMAID QUEEN.

    Scroll down: http://www.sff.net/people/kushnerSherman/Sherman/writing.htm#YA