Ronald Pennington, left, and his wife, Joan Warren, with their bookbox on Martina Drive.
Ronald Pennington, left, and his wife, Joan Warren, with their bookbox on Martina Drive.

Joan Warren saw a magazine article about little, front-yard book boxes. She thought they sounded like a nice idea, so she went online and found some plans and gave them to her husband, Ronald Pennington, who likes building and repairing things.

About three months ago, they set up a “little library” of their own. It sits on a post in their front yard on Martina Drive, next to their vegetable garden. It looks kind of like a birdhouse, except it’s filled with paperback books such as “The Outsiders,” or “The Pigman,” or even “Peter Pan.”

“I’m a teacher,” she said, “and I have lots and lots of children’s books. And the school bus stops just up the street.”

So now as the kids walk up Martina, they can pause and find something to read. So can adults, for that matter. The Warren/Pennington lending library is packed with scores of volumes of all sorts. “It holds a lot,” Joan said.

Around a couple of suburban corners, on Witham Drive, G. Michael Smith offers a different mix of titles in his little library. Of course, his library is different in other ways, too. For one, it looks like a red-topped mushroom. For another, it has its own official librarian, an imaginary forest elf named Far Winkle, whose name is printed on a little sheet glued into many of the books.

Smith – er, Winkle? – offers titles such as “Kon Tiki,” or Mother Goose rhymes, or even something called “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.”

Smith said he set up the library at the end of his cul-de-sac about nine months ago. He’d seen a local TV news report about similar little libraries scattered around Atlanta and thought he’d join in. He’s a woodworker, so he designed and built the elaborate mushroom-shaped box that holds his books.

G. Michael Smith checks on his mushroom-shaped ‘little library’ on Witham Drive in Dunwoody.

He registered his library with, a website that spreads the notion of roadside reading across the nation. The website registers sites for $35 apiece, and lists hundreds of Little Free Libraries around the world, from Atlanta to Australia. Smith’s is the only one listed in Dunwoody.

Smith, like Warren and Pennington, allows people to take books for free. If they bring them back, great, he said. If not, his readers can keep the books or pass them on to someone else. Eventually, he figures, someone will bring a book or two back to the library and the process can begin again.

“The whole idea,” Smith said, “is to promote reading and sharing and community.”

Pennington and Warren said they don’t know Smith, but they had a similar idea. “We just thought it would be something nice for the neighborhood,” Pennington said. “It’s the idea of just trying to get the kids to read books, to get back to the basics.”

He thought a moment.

“And,” he said, “it’s lots of fun.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.