Tiffany Martinelli installed a Little Free Library when she bought her house. | Todd A. Bannor

Based on the abundance of Little Free Libraries blooming throughout Oak Park, the community has a hard-core group of book lovers. 

A recent informal survey (conducted by bike) revealed that Oak Park has more than 140 LFLs within village borders. For many, these little gems are magnets filled with treasures waiting to be discovered. 

The Little Free Library movement was launched in 2009 by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisc., who designed the inaugural book box to resemble a schoolhouse in honor of his late mother, who had been a teacher and a lifelong reader. 

The LFL movement has grown to become an international nonprofit with more than 150,000 registered libraries in 115 countries. The organization donates books to marginalized communities, including tribal reservations, through its Impact Library Program, and promotes books by diverse authors through Read in Color, a program developed after the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

The original goal of the Little Free Library movement was to build community, inspire reading and expand book access. According to LFL owner Tasia Rodriguez, that is certainly the case in Oak Park.

“I think all the Little Free Libraries just scream ‘community,’ and that makes me love Oak Park even more—because these libraries are everywhere!” Rodriguez said. 

While the following Oak Park little library owners have many reasons for installing their own book exchanges, they all agree that sharing their lifelong love of books is paramount. They volunteered to share with readers the children’s books that made them fall in love with reading, their favorite adult books, and the authors they would invite to a dinner party. The answers were bountiful, but some have been edited for space.


1. Tiffany Martinelli, a school social worker in Cicero, has given free books to students at Goodwin Elementary School for 25 years. She vowed to install her own library as soon as she moved out of her condo into a house that would allow it. 

Children’s Books: Good Night Moon, read by her mother at least 1,000 times; the Frog and Toad series, which she is now reading to her daughter, 4; The Baby-Sitters Club series; the many installments of the Anne of Green Gable series.

Favorite Books: In the Time of Butterflies (Alvarez), Cutting for Stone (Verghese), Interpreter of Maladies (Lahiri), When Breath Becomes Air (Kalanithi), The Red Tent (Diamant), Still Alice (Genova), Half a Yellow Sun (Adichie).

Authors You’d Invite to a Dinner Party: Beverly Cleary, L.M. Montgomery, Nelson Mandela and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “The first two captured my heart as a child and the second two lived lives I find both fascinating and heartbreaking,” Martinelli said. 

2. Nora Abboreno’s family gave her a library for her birthday. Her son-in-law designed it so the first shelf could hold picture books. Her son painted the box to reflect her interest in flowers and monarch butterflies. 

Children’s Books: Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, and The Boxcar Children series (which made her an independent reader)

Favorite Books: The Covenant of Water (Verghese), Lady Tan’s Circle of Women (See), Be Mine (Ford) 

Unread Classic: War and Peace, although Abboreno claims she’s just waiting for a snowstorm…

Authors You’d Invite to a Dinner Party: Abboreno insists she would just have an open house, including ghosts.

3. Pam Whitehead, a contractor, built her library from recycled materials and painted it to match the colors of her house. She and her husband will be re-painting the front door of their house and will paint the library’s doors to match. 

Children’s Books: Little House on the Prairie series; Black Beauty, King of the Wind, The Red Pony and The Yearling; and any Kurt Vonnegut books she could steal from her older brother. 

Favorite Books: Lincoln in the Bardo (Saunders); Jazz (Morrison), A People’s History of the United States (Zinn); The Buried Giant (Ishiguro); The Seven Who Fled (Prokosch); The Last Buffalo Hunt (McCarthy); The Sellout (Beatty)

Authors You’d Invite to a Dinner Party: Kurt Vonnegut; George Saunders; Ernest Hemingway, so they could have an argument about feminism, and Emily Dickinson, to see what would happen between her and Hemingway. 

4. Monica Cecero, whose husband gifted her with her LFL for their 10th anniversary, claims she typically checks out 50 books at a time from the library (maybe be a slight exaggeration) and can’t pass an LFL without stopping—even if it’s inconvenient. 

Children’s Books: Little Critter series, Berenstein Bears series, anything by Dr. Suess and Richard Scarry. She still has the copy of Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice that she got in kindergarten. 

Favorite Books: There Is No Such Thing as Bad Weather (McCurk); Gross Anatomy (Altman); When in French, Love in a Second Language (Collins); Beautiful Ruins (Walter); Hunter, Gather, Parent (Doucleff)

Dinner Party:  Children’s authors because they are so creative: Judith Byron Schachner, Mo Willems and Eric Litwin. 

5. Amelia Mutso, a scientist, grew up with a lot of books and wanted to share her love of books with children on her block. She decorates her LFL for the holidays.

Children’s Books: Frog and Toad series. She and her children laugh out loud when reading the Owl at Home series.

Favorite Books: One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez); Lolita (Nabokov); Educated (Westover); Atonement (McEwan); Never Let Me Go (Ishiguro); Mexican Gothic (Moreno-Garcia); The Art of Fielding (Harbach)

Authors You’d Invite to a Dinner Party: Stephen King, Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood

6. Veronica Ramirez, was surprised by her library, which was a Mother’s Day gift from her children, installed surreptitiously while she was out for a run. 

Children’s Books: Ramirez maintains that it wasn’t necessarily the books themselves that made her fall in love with reading but the time her parents spent reading to her and the tradition of receiving books as gifts from her grandparents, aunts and uncles. 

Favorite Books: The Prophet (Gibran), and poetry by Bukowski, Frost, Whitman, Plath and Neruda. 

Authors You’d Invite to a Dinner Party: Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson and Joan Didion because the conversation would be “beyond imagination.” 

7. Mary Cullen, a former teacher at Pilgrim Community Nursery School, was inspired to install her LFL by her daughter, who supports the Neighbor to Neighbor Literacy Project, which provides books to low-income neighborhoods in Chicago. 

Children’s Books: Encyclopedias, Little Golden Books, Little Women, Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden

Favorite Books: The Year of Magical Thinking (Didion); My Brilliant Friend (Ferrante); The Chosen (Potok); The Crystal Cave (Stewart)

Authors You’d Invite to a Dinner Party: Chaim Potok, Elena Ferrante, Akwaeke Emezi, Amy Tan, Lisa See, Toni Morrison

8. Frank Heitzman, noted Oak Park architect, is building a library in honor of his late wife, Sandy, a voracious reader longtime circulation manager at Forest Park Public Library. Frank provided the following answers on her behalf.

Children’s Books: Nancy Drew series

Favorite Books: Moby Dick (Melville); A Farewell to Arms (Hemingway); The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald); Blood Meridian (McCarthy); To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee).

According to Frank, Sandy’s favorite quote was “Fiction is the intelligible lie that uncovers the unintelligible truth of non-fiction.” 

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