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Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin

by Stuart Stotts

Published by Big Valley Press, 2005
94 pages
ISBN: 0-9765372-0-6

Ages 8-11

Lutie Stearns is a name that most Wisconsinites probably don’t know. But she is a woman to whom everyone in the state owes a debt of gratitude for her enduring work to establish libraries for citizens across Wisconsin in the early 1900s. In this fictionalized biography, Madison author Stuart Stotts introduces young readers to this passionate and compassionate woman who was a crusader and advocate for libraries, books and, above all, people. Working as one of the first two staff members of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, Lutie established traveling libraries—trunks packed with a variety of reading materials for small communities that had no public library. It was a concept she had borrowed from the eastern United States. Traveling in the sticky heat of summer or the frigid cold of winter, she went from town to town. Lutie spoke with lumberjacks and miners, farmers and store owners, men and women and children, offering each place she visited a traveling library: a revolving collection of books for anyone to borrow and return—at no cost. Stuart Stotts was first introduced to Lutie by a Wisconsin librarian. He has turned his subsequent research into this engaging story. Vivid scenes imagine aspects of Lutie’s childhood in Milwaukee, when she first developed the stutter that she had all of her life, as well as her professional life, when she traveled Wisconsin and worked toward the ideal of free public libraries for all. In addition to the traveling libraries, Lutie helped establish more than 150 public libraries in the state. But it’s hard to imagine Lutie herself enumerating her accomplishments—her philosophy clearly defined success in much simpler terms: putting books in people’s hands. In an author’s note for young readers, Stotts talks about the questions he faced in writing a fictionalized biography, inviting children to comtemplate the challenges of balancing fact and fiction. And at the story’s end, he writes, “Next time you go into a library, remember Lutie Stearns. Whisper her name.” Occasional archival photographs illustrate this lively volume. (MS) ©2005 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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