Did you know that with your single library card you can check out boat-loads of books at one time? I didn’t either. But my incredibly resourceful friend did and this little fact changed how much I love going to the library with my kiddos.

Before I knew this, I’d walk into the library with my two kids and my purse. My big, not-so-detailed plan would be to have them pick out a couple of books that they would enjoy. In reality, they’d run all over the place while hurling the books they’d want to take home in my general direction. All while begging to play on the computers. And not whispering. And not staying together, or next to me, or near me. Mainly they would get lost in the maze of large bookshelves and plop down on the floor in a corner where inevitably I could not see them. Thus, I would spend my entire library outing looking for my two library bandits on my hands and knees.

I’d end up at the counter with an armful of books, mostly falling to the floor, worrying already that I was going to lose one or five. By the time I’d get to the car, I’d be in a full sweat and on at least one occasion have already lost a book. Plain and simple, it was not fun. The version of “Going to the Library with My Kiddos” that played out in my head was always a great experience. We’d enjoy the book selecting process, go home, get completely engrossed with reading and looking at great illustrations while soaking up happiness and knowledge. And there would be rainbows. While eating kale. And speaking Mandarin.

Realistically, we’d get home and they’d look at 2 or 3 books for 2 or 3 minutes. Those books would without a doubt end up mixed in with all of our other books on our bookshelves at home. If not the bookshelves….in both kids’ closets. Or under my bed. Maybe a few in the bathroom. More in my car. I’m pretty sure I found one in the freezer.

Needless to say, we loved having a few new books to read, but it did become a big hassle to me because I knew we would end up losing a few and having to pay fines. Because of this, for a while I decided it was best for us not to go to the library at all. I know, I know, I am a stellar mother. See here, Bandits of the Books, I give up! No library experiences for you the rest of your entire childhood. See how I fixed that problem!

Well, real problem was, I actually like going to the library and so do my kids. And my mom is a retired librarian, so you can imagine how well that new plan sat with her. And I knew in my heart that giving up the library experience entirely was a completely dumb and irrational idea.

Enter the NEW system! Remember my resourceful friend? It’s her system that we totally stole. But now we enjoy going to the library, rarely misplace books, avoid late fees and I no longer have books hurled in my general direction, or at my face. I called our local library to confirm how many books we can check out at one time. 50. We can bring home 50 books. So, here’s how the system for library dates with my kids works:

Main component: a library book bin or basket. It’s sturdy, has handles and everyone in our house knows that it is the library book basket—this is key. Once at the library, we all peruse the shelves and pick up any book that looks interesting to us and walk it over to the library basket which I strategically place next to a shelf in the corner (AKA not my face). We put in whatever books we pick. We pick and pick and pick. Remember, you can check out 50 per library card (here in Houston anyway, check your city’s library for all your rules).

Once the basket is full, we go check them out. We ask for a printed receipt and tuck it into one of the book jackets. This beautiful receipt lists what books we’ve got, when they are due and a grand total of how many books we have. For you fancy people, yes, you can view all of this information online. But my kids can’t. Our printed receipt, which we treat like gold, is how MY KIDS can keep track of how many books we have and precisely which ones we have.

When we get home, we take the entire library book basket upstairs and place it right next to their bed where they can unload, read, snuggle, whatever they like (well almost) with those books. They know that when they are done reading or looking at a library book, it goes right back into the basket. So every night, the library books sleep with all their library book friends in their little library book basket.

Our new system brought the joy back to our library dates. Since they basically bring home their own personal, mobile library that lands right in their room, they truly enjoy sitting and reading and reading and reading. Granted, no one is speaking Mandarin or eating kale while they read, but I’m pretty sure I have seen rainbows coming out of their ears and mine because we are all so happy about our books and getting to spend a ton of time reading them.

Once 2-3 weeks have gone by, we count the number of books to ensure we still have them all and dutifully take them back to the library. That same day, we load back up with new books. We’ve been doing this for a few years now and it has so many advantages for my family.

First, they get the time-tested true library experience. For zero money, borrow 50 books and read them at your leisure with the promise to return them in a timely manner. Sweet! We also get the experience of community because we always seem to bump into people we know there.

Second, they get to choose books that I normally don’t buy for our home library. By this I mean books about things they may be interested in for a hot minute, but not into the next.

Books they pick:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
every Marvel Superhero ever created
DK Readers on every TV show they have ever watched
Mo Willems entire library

These differ from the books I buy which include:
Timeless stories without TV characters
Books from authors we love
Books illustrated by artists we love
Caldecott winners
Most of Mo Willems entire library

And hey, don’t get me wrong, I am not the all-knower of great books. Sometimes my kids pick out books I’ve never heard of and they become books we LOVE. When that happens, sometimes they get a little surprise via Mommy and Amazon. We can add books to our home library this way, knowing that we really love them because we’ve checked them out a few times and still enjoy reading them.

Third, they learn a bit of responsibility and autonomy. If we do have a late fee (which we haven’t since we started this system, although I’m sure I’m jinxing it right now while typing this sentence) we all chip in to pay it. It’s not about shaming or placing fault. It’s just that we all got the books, we all said we’d take care of the books, so we all chip in to fix it if we don’t. Live and learn. Together.

So, the next time you’re at the library and a book is being hurled at your face by a 5 year-old book bandit, remember they just haven’t learned how to aim. Then buy a library book basket. It will change your life.

Photography by Rebecca Sanabria, the hippest bookworm I know.