An Extraordinary Reading Journey: David Cohen and 1,001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Grow Up

April 12, 2021 | TPL Staff

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Do you make to-do lists? Have you ever made a “to-read” list? One of our frequent visitors to Toronto Public Library’s Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books has a “to-read” list that is very long… 1,001 books long! Allow us to introduce you to David Cohen and his incredible reading journey.

Lillian H. Smith Branch entrance way
Entrance to Lillian H. Smith Branch where Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books is located.


David’s reading journey begins

David discovered our Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books in 2000 during Doors Open. Located on the fourth floor of our Lillian H. Smith Branch, this world-renowned research collection has rare and notable children’s books and book-related art, toys, games and ephemera (items like postcards that weren't meant to last).

It was just the place for David to embark upon his reading journey.

Three images including man in suit, a case of old books and a reading room
Left: David Cohen, a dedicated user of TPL's Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books. Top right: The collection's exhibition area. Bottom right: the collection's reading room.


Fast forward to 2013, the year of David’s retirement. As a child, David loved the Hardy Boys series of mystery novels for children. As a retirement project, he planned to re-read the entire series of Hardy Boys books in their original editions.

Much of this reading was completed at our Osborne Collection. After every chapter, David would browse around the collection, enjoying our exhibits and other items on display. One day, he spied a thick book on the open shelves of our reading room, 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up (2009).

David opened the book and counted how many titles he had read… fewer than 50. And so began his next project — to read all (or as many as possible) of the 1,001 recommended children’s titles.

Three editions of The Hardy Boys book The Tower Treasure
Three editions of the first Hardy Boys title, The Tower Treasure held at the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books.


Currently, it is not possible to visit the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books due to provincial restrictions. When it is possible to visit again, updates will be made to our COVID-19 Impacts on Toronto Public Library page.


Finding the books

Beginning in 2016, David discovered that many of the 1,001 titles were available to borrow through Toronto Public Library. Many more (around half) were available to read on-site in the Osborne Collection's reading room. Some were readable via the TPL's Digital Archive or as ebooks — this was particularly useful during the pandemic due to the temporary closures of the Osborne Collection and TPL branches.

Others books posed more of a challenge. David used our interlibrary loan service and scoured libraries during frequent visits to his hometown of Ottawa. Our interlibrary loan service is suspended at this time, but it can normally be used to borrow items from other library systems — even libraries outside of Ontario!

David was assisted by friends in far-away places and even purchased otherwise unavailable titles through online book dealers. (David has kindly donated many of the titles he purchases to the Osborne Collection after reading them.) Many books were no longer available in either English or French, necessitating the use of translation websites. David has many stories to tell about his efforts to track down elusive titles.


Progress so far

As a member of staff at the Osborne Collection, I've helped David on his journey. When I last caught up with him in December of 2020, he reported having read approximately 500 titles. Only 501 more to go! On the site List Challenges, which includes a list for 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, David counts among the top 1% of readers for this title. David says “there’s just a handful of people ahead of me on the challenge list—and I’m pretty sure I’ve got an edge over them, thanks to Osborne!"

David does not have one particular favorite among the hundreds of titles he has read, but writes: “The books I found most enjoyable were those from foreign countries, because of their view into different cultures.” With books from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, Great Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Hungary, India, Jamaica, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Trinidad, the United States and elsewhere, “the '1001' is a wonderful guide for children that can give you a whole lifetime of enjoyable reading.”

For Canada’s 150th birthday in July 2017, David’s reading choice was Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. The Osborne Collection has digitized its 1908 first edition of Anne of Green Gables. (You can also borrow this 2000 edition of Anne of Green Gables illustrated by Canadian artists Laura Fernandez and Rick Jackobson.)


Sample of the 1,001 children's books

1,001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Grow Up is organized into five sections according to recommended age. It contains classics, modern titles and a good selection of international books. Each book has its own write-up, with plenty of pictures and reviews by well-known authors and critics. Here are just a few examples. All of these books can be borrowed. They are not exclusively available in the Osborne Collection.

Cover of Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion with pictures by Margaret Bloy Graham

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion with pictures by Margaret Bloy Graham 

Harry hates taking baths so much that he buries his scrub-brush. But what will he do when he gets so dirty that his family no longer recognizes him? Don’t miss Harry’s further adventures in No Roses for Harry, Harry and the Lady Next Door and Harry by the Sea.

Did you know that Harry’s illustrator, Margaret Bloy Graham, was born in Toronto? The Osborne Collection is fortunate to hold her archive, which includes a mock up version (or “artist’s dummy”) of Harry the Dirty Dog containing original watercolour sketches, designs and pasted-in text.


Cover of Foxie by Edgar Parin d'Aulaire and Ingri Parin d'Aulaire

Foxie by Edgar Parin d'Aulaire and Ingri Parin d'Aulaire

Foxie runs away from her irresponsible master, and is recruited for the circus due to her skills in singing. All ends happily during the night of her onstage debut.

The Osborne Collection holds many titles by this celebrated German/Swiss/American and Norwegian/American husband-and-wife team Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire.


Cover of Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold

This 1991 award-winning book by American artist, writer and activist Faith Ringgold, tells the story of Cassie Louise Lightfoot, whose dreams of flying come true during a family picnic on the roof of their apartment building.


Cover of Me in the Middle by Ana Maria Machado

Me in the Middle by Ana Maria Machado

Ten-year-old Bel finds a photograph of her great-grandmother Beatrice as a girl. Soon Bel adopts Beatrice as her imaginary friend and advisor. Ana Maria Machado is one of Brazil’s foremost children’s writers.


Cover of A Thief in the Village by James Berry

A Thief in the Village by James Berry

An award-winning collection of nine short stories, featuring young people growing up in contemporary Jamaica.


Cover of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift and illustrated by Scott McKowen

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

This title was originally published in 1726 as a satire for adults, but was eventually “adopted” as a children’s classic. This version was illustrated by Canadian artist, Scott McKowen.

The Osborne Collection holds many children’s editions of Gulliver’s Travels, such as a a 11-page chapbook published between 1854 and 1873 (view in catalogue or view digitized book).


Do you have a "to-read" list?

What’s on your list? Have you ever considered a “reading journey” of your own? Let us know in the comments.

We look forward to having visitors to our Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books again once it is safe to do so!

(Tip: you can make Saved Lists using your TPL account.)



Post by Martha Scott, Services Specialist at the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books