A Literary Family Affair

Fort Worth’s Droege family are readers. Avid readers. And when February’s winter storm kept most folks huddled indoors, the four Droege kids were outside building – not a snowman, but a winter reading fort! For most of the day, they hauled snow in 5-gallon buckets, building the structure to resemble a fort. Large enough to fit two or three kids at a time, they stuffed the fort with pillows for comfortable seating and, of course, books. The siblings and their neighborhood friends enjoyed the masterpiece for two days. Before its demise, the sign in front of the fort read, “Winter Reading Fort: A Seasonal Extension of the Summer Garage Library.” What’s the story behind the sign?

In the summer of 2019, then 10-year-old Penelope Droege was looking for a summer job. She always had wanted to be known as the girl with the most books, and over time had acquired quite a collection to feed her passion. With that in mind, Penelope and her mom, Diana came up with the idea of sharing her books with others by running a library out of their garage. Brian, Penelope’s dad and a 4th-grade teacher at Kay Granger Elementary, said, “The library started with books from my classroom library and from the family’s collection.” Her brothers, Clark (10), Dax (8), and Edmund (13), have played a part in the family business since that first year. Additional books were donated for an even greater selection. Christened the “Summer Garage Library,” their business was in full force as they opened their (garage) doors three to four times a week during set hours. Guest readers – Brian’s colleagues from Granger –volunteered their time reading in the driveway to as many as 30 kids in one sitting. Penelope took on the role of head librarian, and together the family designed a logo and an official Droege library card.

Near summer’s end that year, the library was mentioned on a local TV news program affiliated with NBC5. The Kelly Clarkson Show was about to launch, and the show’s staff heard about this unusual family project. Turns out, the Droeges were flown to California and appeared on the show. Talk about a summer project turned success story.

The family reopened the Summer Garage Library in June 2020, this time bigger and better. Social media spread word of the library, an app tracked books, and they redesigned the library card. The pandemic required the Droeges to take COVID-19 precautions such as canceling guest readers, limiting the number of guests, and quarantining books a couple of days before reissuing. Between 300 and 400 books were checked out each month, and by the end of summer, the library housed 1,600 books. The highlight of the summer came when the director of the Fort Worth Public Library presented Penelope with a plaque for being an “Honorary Fort Worth Librarian.”

“Once the library closed, I lent the books to teachers at Granger to use for the school, rather than leaving them in boxes all year,” Brian said.
The family’s busy planning for the garage library’s third season. “We buy some new books every year,” Brian explained. “This time, we’re concentrating on books that illustrate diversity.”

photos courtesy of Diana Brodeur

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