Until a few years ago, picture books were largely absent in my adult life. If asked, I would have exclaimed, “I love picture books!” And if pressed, I would only have been able to name one, Olivia, published since 2000. New York City and Beijing offered sensory overload 24/7 that my mind never ventured to “kids stuff,” and it wasn’t until I moved to a small Maine island, Isle au Haut, that I rediscovered the joy of reading picture books and the many paths through their pages available to readers of all ages and levels.
My adult mind tells me to start on page one and proceed in order through the end. Any kid will tell you, though, a picture book is better explored than read. Reading aloud becomes an active engagement of minds, words, and pictures. Stopping to ask questions, interrupting to point out what’s unfolding in the illustrations, looping back to repeat a good joke, critiquing character voices. Truly great picture books—it’s hard to argue with a kid’s assessment—are worth rereading from the start immediately after reaching the end. And again (and again, and again). Until someone tires or falls asleep or a compromise is reached. It could be worse, just think Baby Shark.
Taking Storytime Outside the Library
Starting as the director at Stonington Public Library during a pandemic has meant finding new ways to engage kids. Like many librarians, I became proficient enough in recording story time videos and posting them to YouTube. It lacks the element of constant feedback, but I always read with my audience in mind, adding lots of vocal effects and facial expressions to ham it up. Exactly as it should be. Kids—or adults—sitting at home can watch like I am reading just to them. To bring families back to the library, I have also introduced story time walks. We gather on the library’s front porch—zipped up and armed with a cup of hot cocoa to fight off the cold—and take a short walk along the waterfront with stops to hear a story. Kids go home with cookies and a craft kit at the end.
Susan Hand Shetterly wrote a profile of the great American artist and writer Ashley Bryan in Island Journal. Bryan, always generous with his time, used his art and its stories to engage all who crossed paths with him, especially children. On the value of sharing stories with children, Shetterly quotes him,
“Children love to hear stories, but they also like the company, someone who cares enough to tell them a story or read to them. There’s some kind of comfort that we need as human beings that we get from this”
Picture books are the perfect technology for telling kids they matter.
Our friend Chris Ross, director at Stonington Public Library in Maine, wrote this blog post in April 2022.