When a new book comes to the public library, it gets organized into subject categories to make the book easier to find. The folktales, fairytales, fables are labeled 398.2 and get shelved among the non-fiction books. The trouble is, they are not easier to find for children.
In all the years that I have been wandering among the folktales, I have almost never met a child. They are happily over among the friendly and accessible picture book bins, eagerly pulling out brightly illustrated stories. Meanwhile, over in 398.2 I find equally colorful stories. In fact, the shelves are brimming with beautifully written, entertaining, thoughtful, stunningly illustrated stories in picture book format. Yet, when I pull them off the shelf, the mylar covers are shiny and new and the books often appear to never have been cracked open since that fateful number got attached to it. Just the other day I found a delightful story, published 6 years ago that clearly had never been read. What a shame.
How did folktales, the mother of all fiction, become classified as non-fiction anyway? It makes sense for the adult collections, which are usually more for folklorists and students than for young lovers of fairytales. The folktales published for children are heavily illustrated and have nothing of the non-fiction about them.
Not only are the tales hard for children to find but the entire shelving system can be pretty inconsistent. For instance, a retelling of a Brothers Grimm fairytale may be under the Gs. But it is also possible that the reteller gets the author credit and then it is shelved under the reteller’s last name. Making the entire thing even murkier is the practice of putting folktales among the picture books if the illustrator is very famous such as Tomie de Paola or Jan Brett. This is also true if it is a fractured fairytale, or a book that plays on the genre or if it is an original folktale as opposed to one coming from the oral tradition.
So this fateful number, 398.2, means that almost half of the best picture books in the library remain largely unread. It also means that the collected wisdom of the ages that lives inside these tales is also lost and that should not happen. We need that collected wisdom more than ever.
What can we do to make these delightful tales more accessible to children and parents? Could at least the individual folktale picture books go in the picture book bins while the collections of stories remain in 398.2? Have any librarians out there come up with a better way to get folktales into the hands of children?
I for one will begin to regularly highlight some of the best tales that have been languishing in 398.2. If any of you have a favorite lesser known tale that you think I should know about, let me know. I’m on a rescue mission!
- Page 1 of 0