SHERIDAN — There’s just something about a stack of books.
All cattywampus, the corners of colorful covers peek out from under each other, begging to be unearthed, admired and opened. There is the tilt of the head to read the titles, and there is the wondering what story lies beneath that title, inside those pages.
From a fanciful adventure, to a true tale of a harrowing escape, to that recipe that will be the next blue-ribbon winner at the fair or the kids’ most requested dish for the dinner table, books contain a bit of magic.
“Anybody who’s ever read a good book just knows that you will do anything to finish that book, to find out how the story ends,” Sheridan resident Karen Davies said. “It’s so fun to be in an imaginary world for a little while. I think kids love that. I mean, I still love that.”
Fueled by her love of books — and her love of her mom’s best friend who was lost to cancer — Davies has installed a Wendy’s Words Library in front of her home on Big Horn Avenue.
It is a box about 2 feet wide, 2 feet high and a foot deep that is attached to a post driven into the ground, placing it about mailbox height.
Community members can find it in the 700 block of Big Horn Avenue, on the eastern side of the road.
Davies painted her little library bright red with beloved kids’ book characters like Captain Underpants, Wimpy Kid, Lyle the Crocodile and Pinkalicious seeming to bounce about on every side. It is the first Wendy’s Words Library to be placed outside of California.
Davies’ mom, Susan Reep, started Wendy’s Words Libraries with her friend Pat Johnson to honor their friend Wendy Wayne, who died in June 2012 of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Wayne was an icon in Bakersfield, California, a woman with an open heart and open house who inspired people to be better people — both when alive and even now after she has gone, Davies said.
There are now 33 Wendy’s Words Libraries — 32 in California and one here in Sheridan. The moniker, Wendy’s Words, was meant to inspire people to live by Wayne’s own words of wisdom. A tag is placed inside each book with 10 of Wayne’s sayings. Just a few include:
• Commit to something bigger than yourself.
• Never meet a stranger. Extend a helping hand to those you meet.
• Erase the word “can’t” from your vocabulary and see only possibilities, not obstacles.
Davies said Wayne lived by these words and more throughout her life. She hopes her Wendy’s Words Library will inspire others to do the same.
For example, Wayne said she would visit every continent, and she did. She said she’d swim in all five oceans, and she did. She said she’d have an open home, and would listen to others, and would “walk as if she had a pebble in her shoe, keeping herself just a little uncomfortable so she’d try new things.”
“I wish I could explain Wendy in a way people could understand. She was a person who never knew the word, ‘No,’” Davies said. “She always tried to make the world a better place, that was something she just did. She tried to leave everybody feeling better than they were.”
Davies has stocked her Wendy’s Words Library full of books, including kids’ books, to be taken, enjoyed and returned. She wants people to stop by and browse a bit and remember the wonder found inside a book.
“They’re cute, and they’re free and people like when something’s offered to them, I think,” Davies said. “It’s just nice to know that you’re welcome to go to somebody’s house and pick up a book. It’s fun to know that you can just walk by, no strings attached, grab a book, go home, read it, put it back if you want or pass it on to someone else.”
Davies added that her own Wendy’s Word Library was also built in honor of Sheridan teacher Connie Schmidt, who died nearly two years ago. Schmidt was one of Davies’ daughter’s favorite teachers, and Davies said she’d love to see more little libraries dedicated to a local woman who made a difference.
“Everybody loves books,” Davies said. “What if there were libraries everywhere?”
Little Free Libraries in Dayton, too
Wendy’s Words Libraries are a version of the Little Free Library organization started in 2009 by Todd Bol in Wisconsin. Bol built a model of a one-room school house in honor of his mother, a teacher, filled it with books and put it in his front yard.
Neighbors loved the idea — who doesn’t love little and free? — and the movement to build Little Free Libraries grew and grew.
People got creative, building not just boxes with doors but log cabins, Victorian homes, red British telephone booths, dog houses, choo-choo trains, pagodas and more to house their own Little Free Library in front of their home, alongside a community walking path or on Main Street.
Now, there are more than 15,000 Little Free Libraries in more than 60 countries around the world — including three in Sheridan County.
In addition to Karen Davies’ library on Big Horn Avenue in Sheridan, Dayton residents Joey Sheeley and Gina Donnor installed two Little Free Libraries in Dayton this past summer.
The two women — the self-proclaimed “Dayton Business Alliance” — used money from the town yard sale and a raffle to purchase the supplies to build the two little libraries and asked Dayton residents to join the endeavor.
Larry Moser built the libraries, Shayna Caywood painted the one in front of Gina’s Beauty Bar, and the students in Dayton resident Polly Rhodes’ art class in Lodge Grass, Montana, painted the other one located in front of the Tongue River Valley Community Center in Dayton. Sheeley’s husband, Weegie Sheeley, dug the post holes and poured the cement.
So far, the two woman said, the libraries are a hit. A log in each little library allows visitors to write “love notes” for the books and record their hometown. Touring cycling groups have logged in, as have the stream of tourists who pass through the tiny mountain town.
Locals love the libraries, too.
“Love this little book stop! We love bringing and taking new books!” wrote one visitor.
“It’s a little something to add more character,” Donnor, the owner of Gina’s Beauty Bar, said.
“I like anything unique, anything that not everybody else is doing,” Sheeley said. “It was a do-able project that we thought would add something.”
Although small, the two Little Free Libraries are the only libraries in Dayton, giving them even more appeal. They are full of a variety of books — National Geographic magazines, cookbooks, kids books, novels.
“The idea of digging through a pile of books, I like it,” Sheely said.
Grab a book, build a library
Grab a book, leave a book at one of three Little Free Libraries in Sheridan County. Find them in the 700 block of Big Horn Avenue in Sheridan, in front of Gina’s Beauty Bar in Dayton, 307 Main Street, or in front of the Tongue River Valley Community Center in Dayton, 1100 Main Street.
Build a Little Free Library or Wendy’s Word Library in your own yard or in front of your business.
Find more information at: littlefreelibrary.org and wendyswordslibraries.org.