Retired teacher’s collection of children’s books becomes Little Free Library


By Jennifer A. Haire

Summer reading lists aren’t just for kids.

Retired teacher Chris Lanham spent many summers enjoying books written for a younger audience, specifically her third-grade students at Towne Meadow Elementary School. She wanted to recommend titles that would inspire her students to read. As each school year inched towards summer, she would build her summer reading list by adding books to a pile at the front of her classroom. Her students would pass by it daily, and she hoped some would pique their interest.

The next school year her classroom shelves would grow, adding the summer collection she had just read. Filled with other faculty and staff recommendations, as well as Lanham’s treasured finds at garage sales, thrift stores, and various library and book sales, her desire to keep her students excited about reading has amassed into what she estimates to be more than 500 books.

After 17 years of teaching, Lanham recently retired, and the books sit packed in boxes from her classroom cleanout. With the stories that had brought so much joy to Lanham and her students sitting unread, her daughters had an idea. As a combination Mother’s Day and birthday gift, they would help her start her very own Little Free Library. Built by her husband and painted to look like a traditional schoolhouse complete with an American flag, the books will now find a new home there.

Lanham held a grand opening for the library Sept. 9 in her front yard. The event included a ribbon cutting and a sign crafted by the Towne Meadow Elementary school’s art teacher identifying it as “Mrs. Lanham’s Little Free Library.”

“I am still a teacher at heart, and it made me so happy to watch children get excited about the books,” Lanham said. “Even though free bookmarks, suckers and lemonade were just steps away, they were completely focused on all of the book choices. My teacher heart is full.”

Even with her huge collection, Lanham jokingly remarked that a Black Friday Sale turnout could quickly dwindle the inventory. Readers are encouraged to bring previously read books to replace the ones they are taking. She is excited to be a part of the Little Free Library community and have the books continue to bring joy to young readers.

Lanham will miss her students, the books they shared together, teaching them to read, and helping them pick out a book she knew they would enjoy. Her classroom shelves once filled with hundreds of books lovingly organized and labeled by genre is a thing of the past. She’ll keep a few favorites, ones autographed by authors who visited the school as well as the ones most enjoyed by her daughters.

Lanham’s summer reading list has matured, and her passion for sharing the book reading experience with others has not diminished. She enjoys participating in her adult book club when she’s not working as a part time caregiver for the elderly. Writing her own book isn’t immediately in her future, but becoming an author is a dream that she’s not ready to shelve.