The job of Preschool Librarian is essentially to be a story teller; to stretch the children’s imaginations and instill in them a love of reading. But I’ve come to understand there’s still a bit more to it than that.
Library is exciting and adventurous for the children because, first of all, they come to a new room for a unique half hour in their week. The experience is different from time in their classroom. This room is smaller, more focused, surrounded by books. They don’t see me every day. Everything about Library is designed to make it special – and indeed they soon find it so!
The two’s, who were dumbfounded by me at the beginning of the year, have begun to respond, even if only to make the sounds of the tiger and duck. Most of them are now telling me what they do at home – how when they take a bath it’s different from the way a cat takes a bath or what their favorite toy is.
In their classroom, there are many nooks and corners with different things to do, it is easier in Library to center attention on the stories. There are no props, no games, no competing distractions – it’s strictly between me and the kids and the book we are reading.
Broken down into even more basic components, it’s between them and me and words. Words are the central mode of transportation in Library. This might be why discussions in Library are so exciting and why kids who, early in the term are reluctant to speak, are making contributions by the end of the year. Those who started out with good verbal skills get even better. Children who usually demand the spotlight start listening to their classmates
We all know how crucial it is for children to learn that they can express themselves, that they can make their thoughts and feelings understood and that they will be listened to and appreciated. It makes them feel valued. It makes them feel less powerless. It helps them to think more clearly and to communicate what they are feeling. The whole rest of their education, their interaction and their growth are based on that ability. At first, children talk only to others for social reasons but, gradually they learn to talk to themselves for thinking and problem solving. That this begins to happen in Library is one of the most exciting and important parts of the job. Partly, it happens because good fiction can set your mind on fire, can encourage you to communicate, can help you to identify your own feelings and define your relationship with the world. So reacting to a story and then making your reactions known becomes a natural thing to do.
I will read FOREST CHILD to the three-year-olds. This is a wonderful book about a boy who gets lost in the forest and all the animals take care of him for the night. The bear finds him honey. The deer gives him a ride. The fish bathe him. The dove flies off with a note for his mother telling her he is safe. The eagle flies him home in the morning. Once, when I finished, a little girl had tears in her eyes and she cried out, “But he’ll never see his new friends again!”
Like all good fiction, this book has a strong universal subtext. It is about the loss of infancy: about that moment when you must fly into reality. This child connected to that sense of loss and was able to express her empathy. That’s why good stories make for good talk.
I make it a point to read stories that have strong subtexts the children can connect to: sibling rivalry, fears, separation, feelings and moods, dreams and nightmares, the city and our daily lives. We have something we have shared to talk about and the desire travels from child to child. Once a child learns that he or she can speak up, can get better at doing it and how satisfying it is, it becomes easier and easier to do.
And what a pleasure it is for me to see that happen. Here are some books that inspired vivid discussion:
2’s MICE SQUEAK, WE SPEAK
A cute, simple book that allows the class to respond by recreating the sounds of each animal and points out that we make sounds when we want something too – only it’s called talking!
3’s MOONBEAR’S DREAM
This delights the kids, especially in the beginning of the school year when they have to deal with so many new rules. When Moonbear throws everything around and breaks the family’s honey jar they are shocked and thrilled.
4’s I STINK!
A beautifully illustrated book about what a garbage truck does and how our life would be affected in their absence. This book becomes the most popular item on the reserve list. It’s exciting, interesting and about something connected to our daily lives. Even weeks after we've read it, children are still describing the garbage trucks they have spotted.
It’s going to be a great year!
Ed the Librarian