First Steps began almost nine years ago, in February of 2004. Our first column was about the importance of having fun, because we believed that fun was a key element in any discussion of early literacy. We still do. Learning to read isn’t easy. It’s hard work, and children need to be motivated to put forth the effort. Like adults, they’re inclined to do what’s most enjoyable for them.
As 2013 approaches, Nell is celebrating 40 years in children’s library services, and retirement is just around the corner for her. This will be our final column, so we’ve been reminiscing about the fun we’ve had writing it, and the pleasure we’ve had practicing what we preach.
One day in particular stands out in Nell’s mind. It was the 1980s, and she was working for King County Library System in Washington State. As an outreach librarian, she visited childcare centers each month, presenting storytimes and leaving boxes of books for the kids to enjoy until her next visit. She always carried a variety of storytime titles, along with a flannel board and a big bag of puppets and props. Her presentations were full of songs, finger plays, rhymes, and books that came alive with animated reading and puppet friends or dramatic play. The storytimes were a highlight of the month for the caregivers as well as the children.
One day Nell arrived at a center she’d been visiting for about six months. Many of the children knew her by then. But this day, as she lugged her bags of books and tricks to the classroom’s reading corner, she noticed a new boy. He was sitting at one of the small tables next to a child she recognized from previous visits. As she passed their table, she saw the child gently poke the newcomer and gesture toward her. “Ya know who she is?” he asked. She’s the BOOK fairy!”
Well. That stopped Nell in her tracks. She practically could feel herself start to glow as she realized she had accomplished just what she’d dreamed of doing as a librarian. Fairies are magical, after all, and here was a child who was convinced that books and reading were part of that magical world. It was great fun for Nell to return to her library office and announce to colleagues that from that day forward, she was not merely a children’s librarian, she was a book fairy!
Beyond that nostalgic memory is the certainty that the work we do to spread the enchantment of books to children, starting at birth, makes a real and meaningful difference, both to the youngsters and to our communities. Book fairies like us, like you, make books and reading fun, even magical. And as we said in our first column, if it’s fun, everything else will follow.
What’s more fun than playing air guitar with Pete the Cat and singing his song (see Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes [HarperCollins, 2008] by Eric Litwin)? What’s more fun than making the Big Green Monster go away? And come back. And go away (as in Go Away, Big Green Monster [Little, Brown, 1992] by Ed Emberley). What is more fun than being monkeys and stealing the peddler’s caps (Caps for Sale [HarperCollins, 1947] by Esphyr Slobodkina)? What is more fun than helping a worried mama find her puppy who hasn’t eaten his dinner? (Where’s Spot? [G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1980] by Eric Hill)? What is more fun than not letting the pigeon drive the bus (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! [Hyperion, 2003] by Mo Willems)?
We could go on and on and on. We’ve had a great run—and such fun!—in this enchanted world of early childhood services. Thank you for taking the first steps with us. We wish you well as you keep to the path.