Tulsa library users aren’t that different from those in New York City. They love children’s books.
As part of the 125-year anniversary celebration of the New York Public Library, the institution went on a deep dive to find the top 10 most checked-out items in its history.
The most-sought book was “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats. It’s an award-winning children’s book published in 1962 featuring a boy’s experience with snow.
Several others also fit into the youth and children’s genres.
In order, the other ever-popular titles are “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss, “1984” by George Orwell, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White, “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.
The Tulsa City-County Library doesn’t have a quick or easy way to determine its all-time favorites but has a centurylong history.
The library was founded in the basement of the courthouse in 1904, but a Carnegie grant led to its first stand-alone building in 1913 with 1,000 items. It expanded into a county system in 1955.
Today, it has 25 branches with more than 1.7 million materials.
Through those decades, records have been moved or lost. Some may not have been digitized for simple research.
But library officials said they could start a search from 2016 to the present to find the most check-out items.
Only one — the No. 1 item — is an adult book: “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann.
That makes sense considering it’s a nonfiction bestseller and award winner about how the Osage Nation was terrorized by murderers and grifters during the 1920s oil boom. It is being made into a movie on location in Osage County by Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Five items among the top 20 are DVDs of popular movies such as “Hidden Figures” and “La La Land.”
After that, it’s the Mo Willems show.
Of the top 20 items, 14 are titles from children’s author Mo Willems, known for his brightly illustrated books on characters The Pigeon, Knuffle Bunny and Elephant and Piggie.
Through an email to his agent, Willems sent his gratitude.
“For a novel to be a success, people have to enjoy it after they’ve read it once, but for a picture book or early reader to work, people have to enjoy it after they’ve read it a thousand times. It’s my job to try to create stories that are re-readable and re-playable,” Willems stated.
“How flattering and heartwarming to learn that Tulsa are re-readers. When I am astounded, I usually say ‘Banana!’ So, let me just end by saying, ‘Banana! Banana! Banana!’”
Willems was the featured artist at the Tulsa library’s 2012 “Books to Treasure” event.
Library spokeswoman Kiley Roberson said his books are “the equivalent of a Beatles concert” for elementary students. She said the library buys more copies of his titles to keep up with demand.
“So the success is a little mix of popularity coupled with quantity and availability,” Roberson said. “Either way, I think it speaks volumes to the way Tulsans use the library — as a place to inspire children and ignite a love of reading.”
None of this was news to Laura Raphael, the library’s children’s services coordinator, who is a fan.
“It does not surprise me at all that Mo Willems is so popular with Tulsa City-County Library readers,” Raphael said. “He is delightful for all ages. I defy anyone to read ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus’ and not laugh or want to see Pigeon drive the bus, if just for a moment. His stories typically have a sweet, but never cloying, message, and the characters, despite mostly being animals, are pretty lovable.
“But more than that, Mo’s books are a perfect bridge for developing readers ready to go from straight picture books being read to them to attempting to read chapter books on their own.”
Raphael explained that Willems’ books are more than just entertainment.
“The familiar characters, the simple but colorful illustrations and the humor all help support reading growth. But what really clinches it is the conciseness of text and its meaning in the story,” she said. “The talk bubbles give context clues and act as scaffolding to help emerging readers understand what’s going on in the story.”
The endings of Willems’ books always have surprises or twists, which bring back young readers.
“The good news is that it makes these books excellent builders of fluency, which is a measure of reading success and makes reading more pleasurable,” Raphael said. “When a child can easily read a Mo Willems book because they have read it again and again, they are usually ready for something with a little more depth and complexity, because they have the confidence to try something new.”