Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Wonderful World of Story Time

One of my earliest memories is attending Story Time at the Wakarusa Public Library. Mom and I would walk through the two sets of double glass doors, turn right and she'd send me off to the meeting room where I'd sit on orange Berber carpet with all the other kids.

Ever since then, I've had a special place in my heart for libraries and especially for Story Time. On summers off during college I worked at the Nappanee Public Library and while Shawn and I were living it up in the Bay Area I worked for the Oakland Public Library's cutest branch: Piedmont.

The Piedmont Avenue Branch Library was once a house. She's quaint and tiny with books stuffed in every available space. I miss my co-workers and the regular patrons. I miss remembering what books patrons had requested to put on hold and keeping a look-out for them on the "Hot Pick" shelf (popular books that were available to check-out for one week on a first come, first served basis). I miss hearing patrons nervously apologize for their fines and say, "Well, I'm happy to support the library!" 

But most of all, I miss Story Time.

For a year I volunteered as a Story Reader at an Oakland Head Start preschool and then filled-in at different library branches. I loved the excitement from the kids when I rang the dragon bell to begin our time together--they could barely sit still. I loved watching the littlest ones catch on to the rhymes and hand motions slowly but surely week after week. I love the quiet that inevitable falls on a crowd of wiggling, whispering children when they are caught up in a story; their backs slouch, their hands relax, their breathing slows and their faces go slack--except for their eyes and ears--they are completely engaged.

There's something about a good story. As humans, I think we're wired for story and I've observed the busiest, naughtiest, most mischievous children settle down and learn to listen when presented with a good story. Sometimes it takes them awhile to learn how to listen or for them to notice what they've been missing, but with a little patience (and maybe a few stern words from their teacher), they catch on.

Eventually, children come to love and adore Story Time. Once I was late for Story Time at my assigned Head Start Preschool. As I flew in the doors and turned the corner, there the whole class sat, facing my empty chair, quietly waiting for me to arrive.

My heart melted and pooled on the floor.

Right then, I took a vow: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this Story Reader from the timely completion of Story Time."

I'll always remember Robert, a little four year old from that same class who sat in the front row. He wasn't opposed to Story Time, but he wouldn't heartily join in with the others either. He sang the songs, learned the hand motions, and listened to the stories in a somewhat mechanical fashion. At least until I brought some books and songs about monkeys. Do you know this song?

Three little monkeys, swinging from a tree.
Teasing Mr. Alligator,
"You can't catch me! You can't catch me!" 
Along come Mr. Alligator quiet as can be,
And SNAPPED that monkey right out of that tree!

Admittedly, this song is a little violent but kids go bonkers for it. Especially Robert.

His whole face lit up after I sang the song through for the class. He sat up straight and tall and sang like a champ: offering his most jeering monkey voice and whispering as Mr. Alligator snuck up on those naughty little monkeys. Then he stuck out his legs, leaned back so his lungs had every available molecule of oxygen at their disposal, took a deep breath, threw back his head and yelled so loud his voice began to growl:


Stunned, I looked at Robert, then his teacher; she looked at me, wide-eyed we stifled laughs and continued until Mr. Alligator had gobbled up all those monkeys.

After that, a new fire had been lit in Robert. He was an enthusiastic Story Time participant.

It just goes to show you never know what is going to wake up a child as they journey on to their full potential.

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