When working the reference desk, a librarian must always be braced for strange, surprising questions. When dealing with children at the reference desk, one should expect the strange and surprising because, let’s face it, kids are beautiful weirdos. Earlier this week, a ten-year-old girl approached the desk and asked me if the library had any “sad children’s books.” I won’t call this request “strange,” as I think that has a bit of a negative connotation, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to read, watch, or listen to something sad every now and then. A better word is probably “unusual.” I’d never been asked for sad books before, much less sad children’s books, and so had never given any thought to how to best find them. I proceeded with uncertainty.
For my first futile stab at helping this small seeker of the sad, I took to the library catalog, but as I suspected, there’s no “Depressing Stories – Juvenile Literature” subject heading (curse you, Library of Congress), so I struck out there. Next, I briefly considered trying to pinpoint in just what way the girl wanted to be made sad by asking something like, “So, what kind of sad are you going for, like ‘beloved pet dies’ sad, ‘best friend moves away’ sad, ‘someone gets terminally ill’ sad, or something else?”, but dismissed that line of questioning as ridiculous. I moved on to an attempt to draw from personal experience, but the only sad book I could remember from my childhood was Old Yeller, and she had already read that. D’oh.
My options exhausted, I was forced to turn to the last refuge of a desperate fool: the Internet. A quick search yielded several helpful lists of books guaranteed to bum out kids and adults alike. I selected a few age-appropriate titles, checked the catalog, and retrieved them from the shelves for the girl to approve. I had her read the back covers to see if she thought they would make her shed sufficient gallons of tears, and she seemed pleased (she went with Where the Red Fern Grows, Bridge to Terabithia, and Tuck Everlasting). She walked away happy that she would soon be sad, and I revelled in the satisfaction of completing my mission to make a little girl cry.