Organizing Children’s Books

It’s Sunday evening (as I’m typing this), and I’m sitting on our couch in our new home in small-town Iowa. The blinds are open, and I can see the last remains of the weekend all down our street—three boys ride their bikes up and down the sidewalk while a neighbor’s dog walks lazily up their driveway, pausing along the way to give a half-hearted shake. The gorgeous full moon rises above the trees while the sun sets behind the house.

My husband and girls are out for an “adventure” (which could mean anything from a trip to the neighborhood park, a drive around the square, or a walk around Wal-Mart) while I finish a library book and plan out the week.

I’m happy here, in this simple life that we chased to Iowa. Adam’s new job is just a few miles from our house, and our adorable small town sits conveniently in the middle. We have three parks within walking distance, a children’s librarian who already knows our girls by name, and a hardworking landlord who helped us unload our moving van when we arrived in town.

The last time we moved, we had a two-year-old and a tiny, two-bedroom apartment. It seems hard to believe we stayed there for five years, welcoming a new little Droegemueller to the family along the way. Because I am prone to reading Real Simple, walking through pretend European apartments in IKEA, and dreaming about tiny houses, it didn’t dawn on me that we had outgrown our space until it was time to renew our lease at the end of December. We decided then and there that a move was imminent—did we want to stay in town or follow our dreams of a slower-paced life?

Adam had a nearly-perfect childhood in a small town just a few counties from our new home. I don’t presume to think that we’ll be able to re-create that same situation for our children here, but our chances are certainly higher now.

I just finished re-reading Marisa de los Santos’ Belong to Me {affiliate link} last week and was startled by this passage in the first chapter:

“I know how syrupy this sounds, how dull, how provincial, and possibly whitewashed, but what can I do? Happy childhoods happen…I wondered…if I were doing what so many others have done, upstarts who head off to adventure in the big city only to choose the life their parents had chosen, moving onward and backward at the same time.” (p. 4)

Our new place is still small—just two bedrooms for the four of us to share, but we also have a one-car garage and finished basement below the main level, along with a nice, big yard to explore (without landmines and leftover cigarette butts left behind by neighbors and their pets). During our afternoon quiet time, we all have space to spread out and read, work a puzzle, or take a nap—and we have a designated space just for our homeschool materials!

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I spent the first week unpacking and setting up our learning area down in the basement. We moved two bookshelves out of the girls’ room and added two cube storage units for textbooks, math supplies, and all of Kate’s sensory bin materials. I unpacked all eight boxes of children’s books, including the three boxes of more-advanced chapter books left over from my teaching days—purging all the duplicates and outdated science books (goodbye, planet Pluto).

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In our previous home, all our books were sorted and stored by reading level, regardless of length or genre. With more space (and TWO independent readers), our new system looks a little different:

  • All of our picture books have been separated from the chapter books, similar to the library’s organizational strategy.
  • Picture books have been sorted by author’s last name, while chapter books are still placed together by reading level. (Eventually, I’d like to move to a fiction/non-fiction set-up when both girls are a bit older.)
  • Just a few of our advanced chapter books (4th grade and up) have been re-packed for long-term storage due to material that Addie’s not quite ready for (historical fiction books about World War II and the orphan trains, mostly, along with some books set in middle school).

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I simply sorted all of the books into the plastic shoebox tubs I’ve used for 10+ years and marked all of the books with a star sticker in the bottom, right-hand corner—corresponding with the same colored sticker on the front of the book tub. In addition to making clean-up easier for all of us, I’m already seeing Kate branch out to more advanced books than she was reading before the move, and Addie is THRILLED to have 20+ “new” (to her) books available.

How do you organize your children’s books? I’d love to hear other ideas!

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