Brno Family: It’s Cold Outside, So Visit Your Local Library

Introduce your kids to the world at one of the many libraries around Brno. The possibilities are endless. Photo credit: Bruno Zalubil.

Reading is one of the most important habits that a parent can pass along to their children. That is why, when my children were young, I carried around a hard-cover book and made sure that they saw me reading it. I purposely modeled that behavior for them.

Now, they are a bit older and they do, in fact, like books. They can’t read, but they know that books are interesting. Whenever we go to the library it is as though we are in a candy store.

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Libraries in the Czech Republic have excellent children’s sections and they include many English-language books. If you haven’t visited Moravská zemská knihovna (MZK, the Moravian Library at Kounicova 65) or Knihovna Jiřího Mahena (KJM, the Jiří Mahen library at Kobližná 4) then you are missing out on a great part of our city. Both contain thousands of books and a lot of good reading and discussion prompts.

The hidden gem is the 33-branch Jiří Mahen network. There is basically a small branch library in every neighborhood of the city. They have limited open hours, but all of them offer a nice indoor activity on cold autumn and winter days.

There are many English books scattered within the stacks but, really, the language doesn’t matter. Children’s books — especially for toddlers — are about pictures and images. Czech books can be used just as easily by non-Czech speaking parents because the pictures are the prompts for storytelling.

Plus, many kid books have interactive parts. How better to teach time than with a book that has a big clock with moveable hour and minute hands? Animals can be named with whatever language you want. After all, the kids don’t know how to read yet.

(Frankly, non-native-Czech speakers can use children’s books to slowly build up their own knowledge of the local language.)

One of my proudest moments as a parent was when my kids visited the local branch of the Jiří Mahen library system. They had been there before several times with their mother and they knew their way around. The boy went straight for the toy shopping cart. The girl went straight for the shelves. Both exulted in the possibilities that each book might hold. I tried to correctly replace the rejected books on the shelves, but that quickly devolved into a Sisyphean task.

The boy gravitates to books with construction vehicles and dinosaurs. The girl asked the librarian for help and ended up with a book about cats, which she loved. 

In the end, we had to choose just eight books. That brought our multi-location total to the allowed 30. Most of our books came from the larger central library, where there are thousands of books, board games, computers, bean bags and even a table football game. It is definitely worth a visit.

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In the subsequent weeks, we went through each of the borrowed books several times. My wife is a tireless bedtime story reader in both Czech and English. I am only allowed to read the English books because my daughter discourages me from reading aloud in my subpar Czech. (She’s a tough critic, even at 5.)

The recent popular library book is about dinosaurs. It is in English, but my kids want me to read the scientific names. Cleary, the information is getting through. My son, who had just turned 3, is constantly talking about the Stegosaurus.

Days after our most recent read-through, he announced during dinner that he wanted to visit the Yucatán. That, he had learned from the book, is where the meteorite hit the earth and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Maybe that little bit of knowledge about the Yucatán will never be useful. But maybe that one fact from that one book is one tiny pixel that will eventually become a high-definition understanding of dinosaurs, meteorites, geology, geography, Mexico and any number of other things.

That makes sense to me, so we will keep visiting the local libraries and we will continue going through books, continue bolstering imagination and continue learning. Especially when it is cold outside.

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