What does it take to open a book in the children’s section at the library?

It’s Sunday afternoon and the library is open from 1-5 p.m.  The parking lot is nearly full.  I’m sitting in the children’s picture book area on a low-slung comfortable couch – blue cushions with red and blue stripes along the arms. Although I’ve been to this library many times, I never sat in the children’s picture-book section.  There are several book shelves lined up like big ships moored in a harbor throughout the children’s section.  There must be thousands of books. How are children to make a choice?  On top of each “ship” of shelves are books strategically placed to stand up tall– half open so you can see some inside pages.

There are play areas around the edges of the bookshelves.  A table with puzzles.  Two special tables that contain wooden train tracks and wooden trains. Big colored numbers cut into the grey carpet.  And shapes – a green circle, red rectangle, green rectangle, red octagon.  There are cut-outs of animal characters I recognize on a far-away wall from famous kids stories – the red dog, green and yellow teddy bear, green alligator.  And rainbow-colored paper flowers in pots on one of the counters.  Along one wall, there are book bags that kids can fill to carry books out.  A nearby father pushes a stroller with an infant and two older children in tow.  He’s carefully explaining how his oldest daughter can use the alphabet to find a book on the shelves.  She wants to find a science book.  He’s telling her to look for “s-c-i.”

A toddler runs over to play with the train cars, passing them over the tracks.  His father sits down on one of the couches to read emails on his iPhone.  The toddler is quickly in sync with the game he’s made up, clutching cars in both hands to run over the tracks. Eventually he spies the second train track table several feet away, and carries all the cars from this table to join cars at the other table.

How is this toddler going to make the transition to considering the thousands of books that live in the children’s section?  If given a choice – and shouldn’t he have a choice – will he prefer to play with trains and never pull open any books within his reach on the shelves.  Now he’s heading toward some other children standing in the middle of the stacks.  The sound of voices of other children looking at books.  Perhaps that is how he’ll find his way to the books, by watching other children. He’s in the stacks now banging the train cars in his hand against the metal shelf.  He’s so close to the books but doesn’t reach for any.  If this were my son at this age, would I pull a book off the shelf and show him some pictures or be glad he’s happily lost in the train game.

Mostly I’m seeing parents come to the ships alone, picking out books. Their children are not with them. Maybe their kids are sitting in other parts of the library already looking at books.  There are lots of fathers here.

A girl maybe 6 years old pulls a book off the shelf and reads the title to her father.  “This book is called,” she says … and she reads the title over twice, slowly.

Another child’s voice is counting out the number of books she can take home. “One more,” she says. “one more.”

Next week I plan to sit in another section of the library, for early readers. The plan today was to read books and find authors to recommend to you. But that didn’t happen. I didn’t pull a single picture book off the shelf to read. Instead I sat on this couch thinking about what it takes to open books and get engaged in reading.  There was no one here to open some books and show me some pictures. I think that is what it would have taken.  That is what it takes to get your child to open a book too.

1st Place Winner in Mural Contest to “Z House Story” Illustrator

Congratulations to “Z House Stories” illustrators, Travis Czekalski and Jon Stommel. Travis won 1st place in the summer 2012 Clark County Mural Society contest for his design of Chinook Native Americans (mural located at Washington St. & 6th St.). The Mural Society unveiled 3 winning murals to beautify the walls of downtown Vancouver, WA.  Travis, in association with Jon Stommel, produced a rich work of art telling a story of the everyday lifestyle elements along with respected men and women of the tribe.