Libraries are a Refuge and They Will Be Again

Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience &Fortitude – written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Henry Holt and Company, 2018

Where Is Our Library?: A Story of Patience & Fortitude – written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Henry Holt and Company, 2020

If you’re not already familiar with Patience and Fortitude, they are the two stone lions who guard the main branch of the New York Public Library, located at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan.  They were given their inspiring names by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia during the Great Depression, when New Yorkers needed the boost provided by a great temple of public learning.  They are also characters who come to live in Josh Funk and Stevie Lewis’s two picture books dedicated to the wonders of the New York Library System, and specifically, to its children’s reading rooms.  The sleek and brave animals seem to move, animation-style, from picture to picture, where bold outlines, earth-tones, and selected brighter colors all advertise the beauty and friendliness of Patience and Fortitude’s home.

In Lost in the Library, Fortitude wakes up one morning to find Patience missing from his plinth.  Fortitude determines to find his friend, a task which involves search all the byzantine byways of the library, and asking for help from real-life landmarks, including portraits of early benefactors, a lion-head water fountain, and the lovely statue of Frolicsome Girl from 1873.

Fortitude also reminisces, and we get the backstory of his early meeting with Patience, who evolved from a silent statue to a loquacious companion, whose stories often alluded to the wonderful world of children’s books: “Patience told stories of ducklings and moons,/of wardrobes and buttons and fun.” When, to readers’ relief, they reunite in the children’s room, Patience is engrossed in several classics that are pictured together as a trio of Caps for Sale, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and Amelia Bedelia. If the child with whom you are sharing the book isn’t familiar with those stories yet, don’t worry.  Part of the purpose of this picture book is so promote the love of reading. An afterword includes information about the NYPL, but you can supply your own tribute to books and the wonderful institutions which make them available.

Before the pandemic struck, the NYPL had planned to open a new children’s center; this project has been completed, but is not yet open to the public because of the pandemic. In Where Is Our Library, Patience and Fortitude return; this time they are both anxious at the apparent loss of their favorite reading room.  When they enter the beloved space, which is now a hollow shell with furniture, but no books, Patience seems panicked but Fortitude has a plan.

Their nighttime journey through the city takes them from Times Square to Central Park, and involves encouraging conversations with some other statues as devoted as they are to literacy.  Again, if children have never met the Hans Christian Andersen or Alice in Wonderland statues which are New York landmarks, the book offers opportunities to explain their significance.  Similarly, the many wonderful works which appear in their children’s room search are listed in an afterword, and they represent a terrific opportunity to interest children in the content within their covers. There is even a fabulous Chinese dragon on the ceiling in Chinatown’s Chatham Square Library!

Of course, when they do find the exciting new children’s center, it’s clear that the picture was composed pre-pandemic when New York’s streets, and those of so many other communities, were full of activity. Here is one more, hopeful, conversation to have with your children. But even inside, we still have books. To help children have further access, please consider helping some wonderful resources to provide them with reading material, such as Reach Out and Read or First Book.

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