Read In Week 2014

There are several things I’ve taken away from my time as a Library Assistant in the Children’s Library, but the one that I treasure the most is reading stories to children. Even though I had already been reading to my children at home, it wasn’t until I was thrown into my first storytime at Edmonton Public Library that I discovered I had the ability to read to groups of children, but more than that, I really enjoyed it. Fast forward a few years and I have just finished my annual visit to Lorelei School for Read In Week where I had the opportunity to once again read to my children’s classes. Now I have had some great storytimes, some of which had ended in hugs from the children (the other morning, for example); but nothing compares to the feeling I get when I visit my children’s school.

The short list
The short list

The week leading up to Read In Week was punctuated by a countdown of sleeps for Graeme. “How many sleeps for you to read at my school?” I had already made up my mind what I would be reading to Abigail’s grade three class, but I was still deciding on Graeme’s kindergarten class. Then I came across two books that I thought would be perfect, Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won and No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah OHora. It turns out that No Fits, Nilson was quite fitting for the kindergarten class as I walked in during a time out (thankfully, not Graeme). Before I could leave kindergarten I was persuaded to read one more story, and there was no way I could say no to our favourite kindergarten teacher, so I read Jungle Party by Brian Wildsmith. I was also invited to read to the one of the grade one classes (1 of 1). This invitation soon grew to two grade one classes (2 of 1), and by the morning of my visit it was suddenly upped to all three grade one classes (3 of 1) as I happened to run into one of Abigail’s former teachers in the hallway. For the grade ones I had picked out Flight of the Dodo by Peter Brown, which I had done last year, but I really enjoy it, and The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, which went over very well with both students and teachers. I knew from last year that the kids would get a kick out of the “poop factor” in Flight of the Dodo, but I was really happy with the reception that Crayons got. In fact, it lead to one of the teachers possibly using the story as the basis for an art project. As for Abigail and the grade three class, I chose The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman. I was introduced to this book by my coworker who read it to his boys at home. The first time I read it I was hooked; and the first time I read it to my children, it was a hit. However, I felt the need to clear the book with Abigail’s teacher first, as it is a bit of an odd story with illustrations that, while wonderful, could be a bit unsettling to some. With great relief the book was cleared with the expectation that it would generate class discussion afterward, which it ultimately did, to my delight! I used the book to illustrate how some stories give the reader most of the information needed, but there are some stories, like The Wolves in the Walls, that leave information out, and it’s up to the reader to try to figure out the answers. For example, how could the wolves fit in the walls? How did the wolves get in the walls in the first place? I brought up the fact that, even though it is said at one point that Lucy goes inside the walls, it’s never explained how she does it. One student asked if the author had written a sequel to this book. I said no, but that it would be fun for students to write their own sequel. They seemed interested in that idea. During recess I got to hang out with the staff and indulge in their tradition of providing delicious treats for guest readers. I was pleased when one of the teachers mentioned that she looks forward to my visit so she can get ideas for new books. I also was approached by a couple of teachers who were not aware that I was reading today and were disappointed that I wasn’t able to come to their class as well. For someone with little self-confidence, it is encouraging to know that I have a skill that is valued by others. By the end of the morning I was tired, but happy to have shared great stories with the students of Lorelei. More than this, though, I got to see the joy and pride I feel for my children reflected in their faces. Nothing can compare with that!

Read In Week 2014 line up
Read In Week 2014 line up, all courtesy of Edmonton Public Library, of course.
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To the Literacy Van!

This month I will be taking on a new position with the Edmonton Public Library as a member of the EPL Literacy Van. What is the EPL Literacy Van? Oh, nothing to spectacular, just a roving van of awesomeness delivering library programming and digital literacy experiences to the citizens of Edmonton! Not your traditional bookmobile, epl2go is a mobile library branch that aims to connect the communities of Edmonton, particularly those communities which are currently under-served by EPL with the benefits of library programmes and membership services. Currently, Edmonton Public Library has 17 branches and 2 Lending Machines throughout the city, but Edmonton is a city that continues to grow. As a result, distance from and transportation to branches is one of the barriers faced by some of the communities in Edmonton. epl2go will work to break down this barrier as we bring EPL out to the communities. As well, we will be visiting various organizations and institutions who can benefit from EPL programmes and resources, both in the inner city and out in the new developments. In addition to simply being a presence in the community, we will also be focusing on digital literacy. As the world continues on toward the digital age, the library, as a both a centre and a facilitator of information, knowledge, and growth must strive to remain relevant; and with projects like epl2go, that is exactly what we are doing by focusing on digital literacy and programming that entices, challenges, and inspires people.

As of yet, Im not to sure what a typical day will look like. Essentially we, my two colleagues and I, will be building this thing from the ground up. It’s very exciting, but also more than a little frightening. I’m really don’t know what I’ve got myself into, but I guess what attracted me the most to the position was that it is not a typical library job. I’ve been with EPL for almost 19 years. In that time I’ve worked in several positions and have seen many changes, but there has always been a cloud that’s hung over me; it is the ever-present cloud of uneasiness. I’m not your typical library employee; I don’t read much. I don’t devour novels or absorb non-fiction. I don’t have vast amounts of knowledge that make me particularly stellar in a particular subject, and even in terms of general knowledge I don’t make rank. You know that phrase, fake it ’til you make it? I am most definitely still faking it. As a result, I’ve never really felt like I belong in the library. That’s not to say that I haven’t had the opportunity to work with amazing people who did nothing but make me feel welcome; please do not misunderstand. The staff I have worked with over the years have been an important part of my life. The library is pretty much my second home, which makes it all the more unsettling to look around me every day and realise that I really do not measure up. I think that’s why, for the past two and a half years I’ve found in the Children’s Library a place where I could thrive. We do things a little bit differently in the Children’s Library. I discovered that I was good at reading stories to children; that I could stand in front of a group of preschoolers and make animal noises; that I had an appreciation for a really good picture book. For me, working in the Children’s Library was not like working in a regular library, so even though I was still faking it, I was getting closer to perhaps making it. That’s why it’ll be difficult to leave. I am comfortable where I am, and now I’m throwing myself into chaos.

With my upcoming position I will be redefining what it is to work for a library. Maybe by helping to shape to this hitherto nebulous enterprise I can find a place in my library family where I don’t have to worry about being the odd child who doesn’t seem to quite fit into the family photos.

Read In Week 2013, In which I travel to school with a sloth and a stupendously stuffed sack of stories

Another Read In Week has come and gone. For those of you who may not know, Read In Week is a week-long event that highlights the importance of reading in the development of literacy skills. One of the staples of Read In Week is guest readers in schools. Once again, I volunteered to read at my daughter Abigail’s elementary school, and like last year, I was invited to read to more than one class.

An invitation, and an itinerary
An invitation, and an itinerary

Leading up to Read In Week, I had a plan to post the list of books I was going to read. However, judging from past experience and realising how my brain operates, I knew that the booklist I would have posted would not be the same as the one I would ultimately use. When I’m preparing for a storytime, I have a general idea of which books I want to use, but I end up pulling several other just in case I need to make any last-minute adjustments. These adjustments may be due to the make up of the group, having to react to the dynamics of the group part way through, or just the general vibe I get when I sit down in front of the children. With that being said, the theme of Read In Week 2013 was “You Will Go Far” and there were a couple of books which I felt compelled to include. Firstly, Oh! The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. This is a classic book about finding yourself and your place in the world; about facing up to fears and disappointments and rising above them; about realising your potential. Next, The Flight of the Dodo by Peter Brown. This is a story about three flightless birds who are tired of not having a bird’s-eye view of the world and build a flying machine. It also shows that dreams must be tempered with discipline if they are to be realised. Aside from these two, I had a special request from my daughter; two actually. The first was for The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, the second was for 13 Words by Lemony Snicket. When my daughter picked The Gruffalo I had mixed feelings. It is a certainly a book that she has grown up with, though it’s been a while since we read it. It also serves as a touchstone for my ability to read stories to children. One evening after my mother had been watching the kids she told me that she had read The Gruffalo to my daughter. My mother had been told in no uncertain terms by my daughter that she hadn’t read it right because she didn’t use the voices Daddy does. While this was all very sweet and gratifying, I have to admit that I was kind of done with The Gruffalo. I know that seems like a flaky and selfish reason not to read the book, but there it is; I was not in the mood to read The Gruffalo. On the other hand, 13 Words was a book I was looking forward to reading. 13 Words is a great book for one-on-one reading. It has thirteen feature words that are then inserted into the overall narrative. It’s fun to have the child read out the feature words while you provide the context. The interesting thing about the feature words is that some are simple, like bird and dog, while others are more complex, like convertible and haberdashery. As I said, this is a great book for one-on-one reading, but maybe not the best for group readings. However, last year I read this book to my daughter’s grade one class specifically because it was one of the first books that she was able to read on her own; not just the feature words, but the entire book; and so I thought it would be nice for her to read the book with me in front of her class. While my daughter read the feature words (including convertible, haberdashery, and mezzo-soprano) I read the rest of the story.  It was such a good experience last year that I wanted to do it again, and my daughter, once again, was excited to join me.

So, that takes care of three books. However, I would be reading in six different classes, and so I started to put books on hold from the Edmonton Public Library catalogue and pulled from the shelves of the Shelley Milner Children’s Library where I work. Finally I had what I felt would be a good pool to pick from and with out branch sloth puppet, Sanderson, by my side, I went out to Lorelei Elementary. As it turns out, I only needed nine books, but of course I didn’t know that until I got there.

A fluid booklist
A fluid booklist
A sack full of stories and a sloth
A sack full of stories and a sloth

Grade One – The Dark, My Rhinoceros, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Grade Two – The Dark, Flight of the Dodo, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Grabbing some coffee, and a breath, between readings
Grabbing some coffee, and a breath, between readings

Opportunities Class (Division 1) – Bark, George, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

Kindergarten (morning class) – Are You a Horse?, Bark, George, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

At this point, it was lunch time. Fortunate for me, it happened to be Soup Day at Lorelei and the staff invited me to join them. While I enjoyed a magnificent lunch of homemade soups with apple crumble for dessert, the teachers and I had a discussion about storybooks. I told them that when it comes to picking which books to read, I only choose the ones I enjoy reading. The book may be identified as a “classic” or it may be a story that is read over and over to children around the world; regardless, if I don’t enjoy reading it, then I will have a difficult time imparting any joy or interest to the children. I also shared my position that not all storybooks are suited for reading in groups. Some are beautiful stories, but are filled with subtleties, either in the illustrations or in the story itself, that will be lost within a group setting. Several of the teachers agreed that there are many great storybooks out there that appeal to both adults and children; we also agreed that those were the ones we liked the most.

Well, lunch was over and it was time to get back to the classes:

Grade One/Two – The Dark, 13 Words, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Kindergarten (Afternoon class) – Are You a Horse?, Bark, George, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

In the end, I packed up my ridiculous sack of stories, grabbed one last cookie from the staff room, and signed out at the office. There were several highlights that day, but there were three in particular that I want to mention. First, reading to the Opportunities class. This is a class of children with special learning needs, but when I sat down in front of them, I can tell you that it was not any kind of deficiency that I saw. Rather, it was in a class filled with gratitude, excitement, and participation. When I pulled out Pete the Cat from the sack, the whole room erupted. Unbeknownst to me, they had been studying Pete the Cat; they were even creating their own Pete the Cat book. They read and sang along with me as they knew the story by heart, and it was great fun! Second, having lunch with the staff of Lorelei School. I was thankful for the invitation to lunch, and I was grateful for the opportunity to have pleasant, candid conversation with teachers and staff, including a gentle ribbing from the wonderful Kindergarten teacher who’s always trying to get me into teaching (I have a degree in Elementary Education). Lastly, but not at all least, was the opportunity to not only read in front of Abigail’s class, but to have her join me in front of the class to share 13 Words. I was filled with pride in my daughter, and even now as I type this my eyes are welling up. It was wonderful to be able to do this for her, and with her.

Maybe next year I’ll have my act together and post a booklist before my visit…

… probably not.

Bark, George
Bark, George
Pete the Cat
Pete the Cat
Are You a Horse?
Are You a Horse?
13 Words
13 Words
Flight of the Dodo
Flight of the Dodo
My Rhinoceros
My Rhinoceros
The Mixed-Up Chameleon
The Mixed-Up Chameleon
The Dark
The Dark
Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Oh, the Places You’ll Go!