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Reading up on Leaside’s lawn libraries

Sometimes the simplest ideas create the biggest ripples. Who’d have thought a free, mini lawn library would have our Mayor weighing in on its value? Yet that’s exactly what happened this fall when John Tory tweeted his support of the Little Free Libraries after an overzealous Toronto bylaw officer ticketed an owner whose structure was closer than 3.5 metres from the sidewalk.

The lawn library movement got its start in 2009 when Todd Bol of Wisconsin built a model of a one-room schoolhouse as a tribute to his mother, a teacher who loved to read. He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbours loved it, so he built more and gave them away.

The movement took root in Leaside in 2013 and today the Little Frees number 11 on streets in both North and South Leaside. We took a read of some of them:

36 DONLEA DR. This Swiss-inspired lawn library was “modelled after a birdhouse my now adult son Blair made when he was in Grade 3 at Northlea PS,” Barbara Mason told me. “It was a family project with three generations contributing. We wanted a homey whimsical feel so it would appeal to kids, so initially we stocked it with many children’s classics such as Stuart Little. When we noticed many adults visiting, we broadened our offerings and now the library visitors keep it well stocked with a wide variety of books.”

214 AIRDRIE RD. When just 16, Shannon Broughton’s parents gifted her with a lawn library. “I love that my library encourages others to read,” she said. “This year I’m finishing high school and plan become a library technician and maybe continue my studies to become a head librarian, which requires a Master’s degree.”

57 SOUTHVALE DR. A staunch advocate for lawn libraries, Mary Nicholl said, “I live on a busy street and all kinds of people, like nannies, taxi drivers, and neighbours young to elderly, stop and visit my library. It is also a conversation starter. I’ll meet people and mention my street and that I have a mini library out front. Immediately, the person knows the location and we chat for a few minutes about the libraries and we discover that many have visited my library.”

921 MILLWOOD RD. Across the street from the Millwood Melt, with its unique indoor “ladder” library is a seniors’ residence, The Millwood. “I enlisted my family to build the library and restore a cozy bench for visitors to sit on and read while waiting for the bus,” manager Gail Alexis told me. “People are stopping and enjoying a neighbourly visit with the residents as they peruse the library’s books. And we’re planning a few special events to encourage even more visitors to the library.”

14 FLEMING CRES. “Leaside recycles and this is one more way I can contribute,” said Sarah Crane. In addition to “encouraging kids to look up from their screens” she loves that “my Little Free Library keeps me in touch with friends who are always bringing over books from their book clubs. This makes restocking easy.” She added, “This fall our lawn library was a Pokémon Go stop so we had groups of kids arriving, hovering at the stop for a moment, then abruptly departing. We’re hoping they’ll make a return visit and take or leave a book.”

57 PARKHURST BLVD. Situated on the corner of Parkhurst & Cameron, this Little Free Library is among the biggest in Leaside, which in November was hosting several pristine hardcover biographies. Someone is adding quality to the street!

429 BROADWAY AVE. In the fall, this mini library is surrounded by colourful trees with leaves in hues of brilliant yellows, reds and greens. The covers of many of the books inside this Little Free are equally colourful: coffee table photo books, novels, short story collections, and recipe books.

117 DIVADALE DR. From the right angle, a young child looking up at this large Little Free from the street might believe it is almost as large as the two-story house behind it. On the day I visited, it was well stocked with a wide array of reading material mostly for adults.

129 DONLEA DR. The colours of this mini library mirror those of the home on the property. Stocked with young adult fiction, biographies, novels and a “Dark Matter” science book, there is something for everyone here.

45 SHARRON DR. A jogger with headphones paused for a quick peek inside this mini library and then the next moment looked up at the house behind it before racing off. Perhaps it had just hit him that this Little Free is a mini replica of the house at 45 Sharron.

Clearly the owners are house-proud. “Only a few minutes a week are needed to tidy up and you spread the joy of reading,” they told me. Not to mention the joy of showing off their beautiful home and Little Free.