Thursday, December 17, 2009

Library Love and KidLit Commendations

Among my first missions after marching forward determinedly into the judicious province that is Stay-at-Home-Momdom was to reacquaint myself with the District of Columbia Public Library system. No need to buy new books or CDs, rent DVDs, subscribe to magazines or pay to download audio books and music when the public library has all this and more. They even have free wi-fi! When the librarian who issued my card informed me about the checkout limit of fifty items, I laughed out loud in amazement. I thought it unlikely that I would ever borrow so much but reconsidered after learning that parents are the ones most likely to make use of that generous provision. Especially since there is no fine for overdue children's books. Imagine that!

The DC Public Library system is a little more sophisticated than it was last time I checked. A printout of books you borrow is available upon request at the checkout counter so you can gather them from the far corners of your home and return them without worrying you've missed something. The DCPL website offers the ability to renew books online, place holds on materials and request transfers to your local branch. You are even able to download MP3's of books, music and videos! I love that I receive e-mail notifications before loans are due and when "holds" are available for pickup. You may also return books to any library branch, not just the location where you originally borrowed them. How sweet it is!

Many of the branches offer special programs at no cost. For example, computer software training is available for adults, storybook times for children, and online Homework Help for teens. There are occasional sales of used library books, family-friendly performances such a visiting dance troupes, book clubs and much more.

The Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library, the third oldest public library building still in use in Washington, hosts several story times throughout the week to encourage literacy in the very young. Lap Time on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. features librarians reading short books and leading fledgling visitors from birth to age two and their caregivers in songs, games and fingerplay. The popular Neighbor Time is offered twice, at 10 a.m. and again at 11 a.m. on Thursdays, for children up to age five. Preschool Story Time on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. is also recommended for ages two to five. Here children may participate in singing, dancing, games, crafts and, of course, storytelling! Some of these programs are sadly underutilized by the community. A friend took her son to what was ultimately a private screening of an Elmo film because no one else showed up. Kudos to the library's media specialist for going on with the show!

The children's area at Mt. P takes up an entire floor and is stocked with many new titles and much-loved classics from board books for the wee ones to beautifully illustrated picture books well-suited to beginning bookworms to chapter books for older kids who are more voracious booklovers. Texts in the fiction section are available in several languages including English, Spanish and Vietnamese. The non-fiction collection is also impressive; I found myself perusing the Art stacks and discovering some photography books I'd love to have in my teaching collection. The board books are displayed in large wooden crates set on the floor so parents can relax and let curious toddlers plow through them without fear of disclosing an irreverence for the Dewey Decimal System. AS recently lost a shoe in there but the librarian found it in no time. Made me wonder if that happens fairly often.

Reading rooms have soft recliners for kids and are illuminated with natural light filtering in through large windows. The walls of the nooks were painted with a stunning mural, titled "Animal Circus", in the Depression era by children's book illustrator and acclaimed Disney animation artist Aurelius Battaglia (Think "Dumbo" and "Pinnochio") and are still in arguably good condition due to a protective plexiglas covering. Battaglia was a DC native and attended the Corcoran School of Art (now the Corcoran College of Art + Design). Take some time to share this local treasure and its history with your youngster. It's one of the many things that makes this city unique.

What else makes the Mt. P library our family favorite? Here are a few things that come to mind: The librarians are helpful and kid-friendly. They always ask if we need assistance and often take a moment to talk to AS. They are also careful to create a safe environment for children; I have heard them remind adults that they must be accompanied by a juvenile to stay in the youth sections. Among the biggest attractions for kids- a computer loaded with educational games (and others for web-surfing) is available.

This historic library is undergoing an "environmentally friendly and sustainable" renovation next year, and the librarian I spoke to was hopeful it will reopen after about ten months in the Spring of 2011. In the meantime, the branch will move to a temporary location and operate on a smaller scale. If you know where the temporary location will be, please let me know!

A recent radio report suggested children should be read to beginning at birth at least twice a day by their parents to stimulate language development. Encouraging very young children to turn the more manageable pages of board books, bath books or soft cloth books helps them to understand sequence and to develop motor skills. Some of AS's favorite library picks have included the interactive board books Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden and Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Rod Campbell. In fact, AS said one of his first words "Boo!" when hearing Laden's book for the umpteenth time and learned to mimic new animal sounds ("Roar!") as we read and re-read Campbell's. Author and artist Mo Willems' (formerly of Sesame Street) humorous Pigeon series is a hit with our whole family, as are the Look books by Tana Hoban which feature photographs that children view through die-cut windows to encourage more active viewing.

While AS is captive in his high chair during meals, I read to him from the more delicate picture books whose thinner pages don't withstand the rough-handling of a one-year old. Jon J. Muth's zen influenced stories Zen Shorts and Zen Ties are among the most beautifully illustrated we have discovered at the library. His watercolors are reminiscent of Japanese Sumi-e brushwork but more contemporary and whimsical. The Three Questions is another reflective story by the same author and, to my husband's satisfaction, was inspired by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy's profound short story of the same name. Each story features a panda as a pivotal character. Of course, pandas are near and dear to the hearts of adolescent Washingtonians as they are first introduced to these impressive animals at our National Zoo.

Curious to know what school-age children are reading or looking for recommendations for your child? Download an informative report by Renaissance Learning, and skim down to page 4 for a list of titles by grade and age.

If you are budget-conscious and can resist the urge to shop, Barnes and Noble bookstores host morning story times at various locations throughout the week. Browse the B&N website under "Stores and Events" for dates, times and programs. Each week they select books based on a different theme, often appropriate to the season or special holidays throughout the year. We find it is also a comfortable indoor play place on especially hot or cold days. There are usually small benches or chairs for children to curl up on with a book. If your child is in the mood to play instead, toys are provided (our local B&N has a much loved and abused train table). The staff also seem tolerant of children playing with the merchandise (such as the menagerie of stuffed animals for sale) and using the story time stage to enact their own imaginative narratives.

Which library, story time, or book satisfies your child's need to read? Please recommend one, or more!

1 comment:

  1. I received some welcome feedback from Ignacio AlbarracĂ­n, a librarian at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library, providing a few clarifications which I have included below. Thanks, Ignacio!
    The Library limits patrons to 50 books, 10 DVDs/CDs, 5 audiobooks.
    Generally you can ask for a printout of borrowed materials at the check-out desk unless the printer is out of order.
    Not all branches offer all of the services I mentioned right now. Programming schedules change every season. Check with your individual branch or the Library’s calendar first (
    Ignacio also says, "I believe the renovation is expected to last 12-18 months. I would also emphasize that this information may change. We have experienced some delays in starting this project. It would be wise to follow up with us again in late January. But for now, the plan is to close in mid to late February 2010 and to open the interim location in March 2010. I believe the planned location for the interim library is 3124 Mount Pleasant St NW. However, please follow up with us again in January and February. Things may change."



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