________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 17 . . . . April 25, 2003


Believing in Books: The Story of Lillian Smith. (Stories of Canada).

Sydell Waxman. Illustrated by Patty Gallinger & Liz Milkau.
Toronto, ON: Napoleon, 2002.
83 pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 0-929141-77-6.

Subject Headings:
Smith, Lillian H. (Lillian Helena), 1887-1983.
Children’s librarians-Canada-Biography.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Lorraine Douglas.

*** /4


Lillian Helena Smith’s life story cannot be separated from the story of children’s books. The adventure of her life, her beliefs about children, her work, and her personal relationships all centred around books.

In Canada today, the children’s book industry has Miss Smith’s indelible mark. She left us this Forest of Firsts, sprouting buds and branches of ideas and programs that permeate our libraries. She left us a book filled with her enduring philosophies.

The aim of the series “Stories of Canada” is to “expose young readers to the lives of interesting Canadians who have changed their world for the better.” This biography of Lillian Smith, the first children’s librarian in the British Empire, tells how she devoted her life to developing services for children at the Toronto Public Library in the first half of the twentieth century. Miss Smith’s story is told in a blend of fact and composite characters and fictional conversations. Incidents and events from Miss Smith’s life are used to illuminate her principles of librarianship.

     The author, Sydell Waxman, was given the Frances E. Russell Award by IBBY-Canada for her research for this book. It is the first biography of Lillian Smith who made a significant contribution to librarianship. Today, her work is honored by the Toronto Public Library as the Lillian H. Smith Branch on College Street houses the Osborne Collection of historical children’s books and manuscripts. Miss Smith was instrumental in bringing this collection to the library system.

     This easy to read biography will be read with interest by those involved children’s libraries and librarianship. The organization of the book around Miss Smith’s principles will be a bit baffling to young readers, but the numerous photos, drawings and archival materials make this biography very visual. Unfortunately, there are small errors in the text as, in the section on Miss Smith’s work in library associations, the author calls the “Canadian Association of Children’s Librarians” by two differing names. But the author’s enthusiasm for the life and achievements of Miss Smith is very apparent in her writing and research.


Lorraine Douglas is the Head of Children’s Services at the Winnipeg Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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