Have you ever read “From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” by E.L. Konigsberg?
It’s a children’s book that was published in 1967, about 10 years before I came across it. Twelve-year-old Claudia and her little brother James decide to teach their parents a lesson in kid appreciation.
The kids run away from home and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During the day they immerse themselves in the museum, selecting a different gallery each day to explore. They eat at the museum snack bar and sleep in antique beds at night.
This story had enormous appeal to my fifth-grade self. Imagine being locked in a museum at night and having it all to yourself! It wasn’t much of a leap to imagine the same thing in the library. For a bookish child, that seemed like an amazing adventure — thrilling, and a little bit scary.
We drew on this appeal of the forbidden when creating the “Lights Out at the Library” party for our annual teen summer reading program. The party is the reward for those middle and high-school kids who read at least eight books from the time school gets out until the end of July. For some this is a challenge; others scoff at this simple task and log many more.
Lights Out is held after-hours on a Friday or Saturday night. The library is closed to the public, so we open up the doors just for this select group of teen readers. We order in pizza. We play crazy games with names like “Suitcase Relay,” “Tape Head,” “Do You Love Your Neighbor,”” Poor Little Kitten” and “Balloon War.” There’s a scavenger hunt and sometimes we have karaoke. Then, at 9 p.m. we turn off all the lights and play hide-and-seek. In the library. In the dark. It’s amazing!
Libraries are supposed to be quiet places where you mind your manners. No running, no loud laughter, no hijinks or monkeyshines. Lights Out is a special time where such behavior is indulged. If it sounds tiring for the adults involved, you're right. Yet it's worth all the effort and energy we put into it, and it's a pleasure spending time with such genuinely good kids.
Being locked in the library after hours is a special experience. I think it gives kids a different perspective on the library. I often tell them that once they play hide-and-seek among the stacks they'll never look at the library the same way again. Hopefully it connects them to this space and gives them a sense of ownership — because the library is for everyone.
“From the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature in 1968. You can find it in the Juvenile Fiction section of the Children’s room.
Tania Hajjar is the assistant director of the Montrose Regional Library.