Library as Community Living Room

One of my favorite things about being a mother is reading children’s books. I enjoy revisiting my personal childhood faves: The Giving Tree, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and The Frog and Toad books. My children know that Mommy usually cries at the end of The Giving Tree. They realize that Frog’s voice is the same as Mommy’s voice, but Toad’s is deeper and whinier, similar to the voice Mommy uses for Alexander or the picky eater in Green Eggs and Ham. (Have they noticed that Corduroy and The Velveteen Rabbit have the same voice?) I love books and I love children’s literature. It is very important to my husband and me to instill a love of books in our children. We believe it is one of the greatest gifts to give; one that will enrich their world, increase their vocabulary, and ignite their imagination.

Along with reading at home, we began attending our library’s Story Time when my daughter was two. Having moved from New York City to a small town in New Hampshire, we were new in the area and entered the library to join the community, as well as jump into the children’s section. Through Story Time, we hoped to meet and connect with other families with young children. The books beguiled us and the experience would bind us.

During Story Time, books are read aloud. Sometimes a theme is discussed or a song is sung. It may culminate with an arts and crafts project. This forum is a good place for children to learn how to answer questions, how to sit together quietly around a table or on the floor, how to listen. My daughter sat quietly as a toddler. My son, on the other hand…

Once when he was two or three, the librarian was reading a book and asking questions. When she asked what sound a goat makes, my son, already playing to the crowd, shouted, “Poop!” Well, that word in a roomful of three year-olds is like a grenade exploding. It was an eruption (and interruption) of wacky laughter and distraction. We definitely had to reign in the kid-chaos. However, the next week when the topic was the Five Senses, the librarian was discussing smell:  “…and can someone give me an example of something that smells really bad.” Well, you can guess who gave a correct answer.

A Community Classroom

In addition to being a community living room, the library is also a community classroom. My son may have been disruptive that day, but over time he learned how to raise his hand when he had something to say. He listened to the librarian reading, instead of blurting out colorful commentary. He connected with future classmates. Story Time was helpful in preparing him for preschool and school in general. It took a while, but soon he became captivated by the stories, sitting on the edge of his seat – instead of under or around it.

We recently checked out My Five Senses again, probably our fourth or fifth time over the years. The family had fun naming bad smells, as well as pleasant ones. Although now at age five, for offensive odor my son suggested, “Trash!” and “Skunk!” (I guess he has matured.)

The Joy of Discovery

It is important to us to have an abundance and variety of children’s books in our home.  If we borrow a stack from the library each week, we can figure out which ones are special to us. Some we buy at our local bookstores, some we renew again and again, some we reject, and some inspire us to want to write our own. Every Halloween we take out The Runaway Pumpkin. After reading Knuffle Bunny Free, it was immediately added to birthday lists.

Libraries always have a diversity of children’s books – certain ones that are best read aloud, dazzling visual ones that are fun to examine, also beginner chapter books to help with early reading. All of them free, available to all children. (Plus it can be exciting for a child to get his or her own library card!)

The Heart, the Hearth

Libraries today offer something for everyone. Our little library/living room, is in the center of our town; the heart, the hearth. We entered that living room to enjoy the Story Time, but we stayed to become part of the community. We began attending events frequently – some for children, like a puppet show or an arts and crafts afternoon, some for adults – a multicultural night, a poetry workshop. It was a place that fostered a love of books in children, but was also a social setting for adults, offering a “Mac & Cheese Bake-Off” inside, or an Astronomy Night outside under the stars.

Doing My Part

As I chilled in this living room more often, our library director mentioned that a spot on the Board of Trustees was opening up. She encouraged me to run for Library Trustee, which is an elected position. At the next town-wide election, I was on the ballot. It was a landslide! (Just kidding. I wasn’t actually running against anyone.)

My goal as Trustee is to get more involved, delve deeper, support and promote this monumental resource in our township. This goal is fueled by my love of books and my aspiration to expose my children to as many tomes as possible. As a Trustee, I am involved with overseeing programming and fundraising, reporting to the Selectmen in our town, as well as writing and updating policy.

It is remarkable how much the role of a library has changed with the advent of computers and the Internet. I’m not sure how many people realize that these days you can even download library books onto eReaders. However, downloading My Five Senses and reading it at home would never have compared to experiencing it with a bunch of whippersnappers eager to answer, “What smells bad?”

A library is a place to hear books, enjoy books, discover books, and fathom books. You may bump into a friend using a computer, or meet a new neighbor asking questions about the area. You might say hi to an acquaintance perusing a magazine, or remark to a stranger, “Hey, that’s an awesome book!” You may hear giggles erupting from the children’s section. You’ll look over and see enthralled youngsters sharing a moment, treasuring one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures. LEflag

Image credit:
By Juawn (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

About Colleen A. Madden
Colleen A. Madden is an actress, writer, bookworm, and mother. She holds a BFA from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three young children.

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