Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reaching Readers Through Your Local Library

The Camden Public Library

My absolute favorite writing spot is the Camden Public Library in Camden, Maine. The place is magical. Not only is there a huge children’s section, but there are inviting cushy chairs for reading, bean bag chairs for lounging, and plenty of table-and-chairs for when you want to do some serious work. And when the weather’s nice, you can park yourself on one of the many benches located throughout the spectacular grounds (all wired for wi-fi) overlooking the park and the harbor.

The Camden Public Library overlooks the park and the harbor.

Another amazing feature of the library is its staff. Since I often sit in the children’s section when I work (hoping for osmosis, of course), I am privileged to watch the librarians perform their magic. For today’s Reaching Readers post I interviewed Amy Hand, Children’s Librarian Extraordinaire. 

Ronni: When I'm at the library, I'm amazed at the age range of kids I see there. Toddlers all the way up to teenagers are browsing the shelves. Do they often have specific books in mind, or do you find that you're recommending new titles to them? 

Amy: I would say it is about half and half.  Often the kids come in with a specific title in mind because it’s a sequel or they liked the author or a friend recommended it to them.  Sometimes the book is here and when it is not, that is when I get involved to get them excited about another book or two after I suggest they put the one they want on hold so they’ll be next to get it.  I tend to book talk my favorite reads, but I have so many because I read all the time.

Ronni: What seems to be a popular genre in middle grade these days? 

Amy: Realistic fiction because kids, especially the girls, like to read about characters like them and their friends.  For boys, they are really into graphic novels and books that follow in the genre of Diary of A Whimpy Kid, such as Otis Dooda or How to Train Your Dragon or The Origami Yoda, which are funny, sketched boy humor.

Ronni: How about Young Adult? 

Amy: Dystopian/End of Days/Survivalist books are still really big right now, and with so many of them being made into movies, there is a resurgence and re-reading of the older ones like The Giver, Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent etc.

The Camden Public Library is especially magical during the holidays
Ronni: What advice would you give to parents to help their kids become readers? 

Amy:  Model reading and remember, no child is too old to be read aloud to, after all; we as adults enjoy being read to by good readers through audio books.  Don’t just read aloud a book, read with voice.

Ronni: What are some ways you encourage a reluctant reader to try a new book? 

Amy: I ask them what they have read on their own and what they are interested in and then I try to suggest books that fit their reading level and are not too long, but aren’t baby books (as many reluctant readers call them). I want them to be successful and I don’t give up. When I see them the next time in the library, I am sure to ask them how they liked the book or what they are reading now.  I also suggest one to read, and one to listen to. They can still have a conversation around a book, sometimes even better when they listen to one.

Beautiful words in the children's section for the holidays
Ronni: Are most kids who come to you for help doing so for school reading, or pleasure reading? 

Amy: That varies at different times of the year. Around Halloween, we have History Mystery projects at two of our local schools. The kids must research a prominent person and dress up as them, and they have to do a little project to share information about the person they choose. The other local schools do research projects at different times during the year and I help find resources for them.  I always try to find a historical fiction from that time, because you can often learn more about a time period, etc. by getting a feel for the time, rather than just information about that time. I find that during school breaks is when I get the most teens in the library looking for good new fiction, because that is really the only time they have to read for pleasure, because of all of their other responsibilities and expectations for school, sports and jobs.

Ronni: You sometimes plan author events at the library. Do you find that kids are excited to meet authors, and have them talk about their books? 

Amy: For older kids, yes, when I can group the visit with their books and have the kids read ahead of time. The picture book events I have had, the kids are excited but I think it is more about getting new books. I think the younger kids just like people and books in general and remember the events most, when something goes along with them. For example, we just had Kate Egan and magician Mike Lane come and we had a great crowd and the local bookstore sold all the books they ordered for the event. My Maine Student Book Award Book Club just hosted Sharon Creech for an informal book chat. It was magical. 15 fourth-eighth graders read her books for a month and I asked them to come prepared to ask questions and share. They asked and piggy-backed questions off answers that she gave and we got to see her actual Newbery Award. She enjoyed the evening as much as they did, as she shared about everything and gave a little teaser about her newest book which is still percolating.

Ronni: I met Sharon at a recent author’s event at the library. So I guess adults really enjoy those events, too! We're lucky to have the Camden Library in our community. What's your advice to parents who may not have such a resource nearby? 

Amy: If you have a library close by, utilize its services. Make friends with the youth services librarians. Get to know them and they will get to know you and your family. If there are programs that you would like to see at your library, suggest them. Volunteer to help out. Visit different libraries in your area, if you have more than one. There are different programs being offered which meet different needs, be it time, convenience, personality of the persons, etc. Libraries are not just places to find books anymore, ours is truly a community hub, where everyone is surrounded by books and reading but they come to socialize, for story hours, to work on research, authors come to write here, you can check out discovery kits, binoculars, telescopes, IPADS, Kindles and more. They come to hear music, and for book clubs and senior college and other programs. We are a place where everyone can READ, CONNECT and DISCOVER. If you don’t have a library near you, get together with some friends and their kids and take turns sharing great stories aloud. Do a craft project together if you are adventuresome, it’s a great way to extend a book. Pinterest is a great way to find easy projects to do at home to connect with books!

Children's Librarian Extraordinaire Amy Hand during outside story time

Thank you so much, Amy, for sharing your thoughts with us! And on a personal note, thank you for sharing your library with me!

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