Confession: I Borrowed Library Books Without Checking Them Out

I was around 10 years old when I removed books from the library without checking them out. Why would I do that? (Spoiler: I always returned them.) Before I answer, here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • I grew up in rural central Virginia, with deeply devout Baptist parents, and I was home schooled.
  • When I was 10 years old, I had two sisters and one brother (another brother came along a few years later). My parents were extremely protective of our exposure to the secular world.
  • My siblings and I weren’t allowed to listen to anything other than gospel music. My sisters and I stretched the limits to Christian rock as teenagers, but only with much groaning from Dad. A Christian rap group called DC Talk was considered too hardcore; we were forbidden to buy their music (even though they rapped about Jesus).
  • Whenever we watched movies – anything which hadn’t been pre-screened as safe – my dad would sit nearby, remote control in hand, and fast forward through anything he deemed inappropriate.

The tiny Buckingham County Public Library, located a few miles from home, was our main source for reading material. Mom would take us there to choose our books and we’d check out as a family.

Mom always inspected our books before we checked out; there was no reading free-for-all here. She let me get away with occasional fluffy reads (The Babysitters Club series, for example), but I knew she didn’t like them. I didn’t read nearly as many Babysitters Club books as I would have if given free rein. Mom wanted us to read books of substance, like memoirs and biographies of well-known figures.

Then I discovered the Sweet Valley Twins. I owned one book in the series; I believe it was purchased from a children’s book fair when Mom wasn’t around to steer me in a different direction. I still remember what that book was about, due to reading it over and over as a kid (unlike my current preference for reading new things). I looked it up just now. It was Teacher’s Pet.

Sweet Valley

I was enthralled with the Sweet Valley Twins because they were everything I was not. They were popular. Beautiful. Cheerleaders in sunny California.

Our library had a small selection of Sweet Valley Twins books. One day, knowing Mom didn’t approve of them, I slipped one in my purse. This was before books set off alarms if removed from a library without being checked out. Back in the day, books had paper cards in the back which were manually stamped with the due date.

I read the book at home, and on our next trip to the library, I replaced it on the shelf. And I took out another one.

This continued for a while, but not too long. One day I was reading a Sweet Valley book in my bedroom when I heard Mom on her way in. I rushed to slip the book under the covers but I wasn’t quick enough, so when she came in she asked me to show her what I was reading. She looked at it, noticed it was a library book, and remarked that she didn’t remember me checking it out.

I confessed what I had done. I cried. I told her I wouldn’t do it again (and I didn’t). I don’t recall being punished; I’m sure she could tell my fear and shame were valid.

What do I think about this situation as an adult?

For context: When I was 10 years old, my mom was 35. Which is the same age I will be in June. My mom had four kids when she was 35 (she had one more just before she turned 39). I have none.

I agree there are certain books pre-teens should not read. If I’m a parent one day, I’m sure I will keep an eye on what my child is reading. However, I wasn’t reading a steamy romance novel. I wasn’t even reading a banned book.

We rarely traveled when I was kid; I only left Virginia to visit my grandmother or attend church camp. Back then, I wanted to read books about girls whose lives were nothing like my own.

I love my mother. I know she had our best interests at heart, even if I don’t agree with many of her and my dad’s childrearing methods. I’m glad she encouraged me to read books with substance. I remain a huge nonfiction reader to this day.

But sometimes a 10-year-old girl just wants a little fluff.

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  • Reply Jaclyn February 24, 2015 at 10:01 am

    This is a great post, Zan. I feel like I know you a little better after reading it. (And I too loved Sweet Valley as a kid, although not quite as much as the Baby-Sitters Club!). Thanks for sharing this story!

    • Reply Zandria February 24, 2015 at 11:12 am

      Thank you, Jaclyn! When I let Paul read it last night before it was published, he said, “This is different from what you normally write.” By which he meant more personal details, childhood stuff, etc. I wrote more of these types of posts years ago but had gotten away from it. I appreciate the encouragement to pursue it more. 🙂

  • Reply Elissa February 24, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    This is a very amusing read. I smiled the entire time I was reading! I knew nothing about your little library shenanigans…obviously I wasn’t in on it 🙂

    • Reply Zandria February 24, 2015 at 5:59 pm

      Library shenanigans…good description! Yeah, I guess I was super secretive about it. I was so ashamed of getting caught that I asked mom not to tell anyone. I guess she didn’t. 🙂

  • Reply Denise February 24, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    While reading this I just smiled remembering the many restrictions my family had as well (though not quite as many as your family had). I never did read the Sweet Valley Hugh series because of those restrictions, but I do remember The Baby Sitters Club and that was stretching the limits.
    Thanks for bringing memories back to me of our childhood together.

    • Reply Zandria February 24, 2015 at 8:47 pm

      Oh, sweet Denise! I know very well that you and I had similar childhood experiences. Although yes, your parents weren’t quite as crazy as mine…I remember being able to watch movies at your house that I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch at home. And also MTV! Haha. Too funny that your mom didn’t want you reading Sweet Valley Twins either. I’m sure if we read them now they would seem SO TAME.

  • Reply Leah March 5, 2015 at 4:48 pm

    My parents were nowhere near as conservative as yours, but my dad still didn’t like any Sweet Valley books (he especially disliked Sweet Valley High). I never smuggled them out of the library, but I did sometimes read them on the sly when we’d have a library day with 2-3 hours there.

    In high school, I went to the library alone. I remember being super scandalized when I checked out my first Danielle Steel novel, and I definitely kept my parents from seeing that one. I can’t believe some of my friends’ parents bought them those!

    I did read tons of Babysitters Club, and I also read pretty much the entire biography section in the kids area. Hope my kid has the reading bug too. We already read a lot with her.

    • Reply Zandria March 5, 2015 at 8:41 pm

      Thank you for sharing your memories! It’s funny that Sweet Valley books were so taboo for certain families back then. It makes me want to go back and read what was so controversial (but of course I won’t because I’d no longer be interested in the adolescent/teen drama).

      If my parents didn’t like Sweet Valley, there is NO WAY I would have been able to read Danielle Steele! I’ve never read her books to this day, actually. Wasn’t allowed to as a kid and was never interested as an adult.

      I hope your daughter loves to read, too. 🙂

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