When the last bell rings this week, signaling the end of the 2016-17 school year, kids will be running and screaming out the doors. While their minds are on beaches, camping, sunny days, playgrounds and parks, school librarians have been busy making sure they also bring along books on their adventures.
Without reading, students are at risk of the “summer slide” — and that’s not baseball jargon coming from the sweat-filled dugout. It means that, without regular reading, students can lose a lot of the gains they have made in vocabulary, focus, interest and comprehension.
To keep them in the world of books takes a yearlong immersion into that world. Here’s a sampling of how school librarians at one elementary school district, Hicksville, take it on. They host serious events—such as an Academy Award-type book awards ceremony called the “Burnies” — and zany events — such as Readers Theater, where teachers dress up as characters from books. Tom Glenn, local union president for the Hicksville Congress of Teachers, says that, as one of only a few male teachers at the elementary school, he always gets parts as an old man or a big bad wolf!
By the time kids head out the door into summer, elementary librarian and Hicksville CT member Lydia Butler has already handed each student about six books to take home and keep. She collects new and gently used books all year from students, teachers and parents, and the books are set up in the cafeteria just before the end of the school year. This year, she collected 2,000 books, all available for the 275 students in the Long Island school.
“I truly believe that this helps put books in the hands of kids who are lacking books at home. This is also a part of how I encourage summer reading,” Butler said, noting that many youngsters do not have transportation to the public library. Summer reading, she said, “perpetuates the fact that reading is pleasurable and something you can do for fun throughout your entire life.”
Elementary school librarian Jennifer Coady, another member of the Hicksville CT local union, hosts an ice cream party at a school assembly in September to honor summer reading. And to pump up reading this year, she brought a new event to the district. She thought it was time to get the people behind the books— the authors and illustrators —out front.
Coady contacted authors from Long Island Children’s Writers and Illustrators and hosted a first-ever author’s fair where students from seven elementary schools could meet 15 Long Island writers. Involving local authors was important to her.
“I wanted to inspire kids to read and write, to see that writers are real people. It’s important for them to meet people who do this for a living,” Coady said. The authors who spoke to the students write in different genres and styles; the illustrators captivate with color and pizzazz. They talked to students about what goes into the process of writing a book — think second, third, fourth, fifth drafts — “before it goes into kids’ hands.”
Coady had a special treat at the event — one of the authors was her own sixth grade science teacher from back in the day, Brian Heinz.
Custodians went all out helping to set up the event, Coady said, and the local PTA sponsored the event and hosted a dinner in the library for the authors. The tables were decorated with the theme from Harry Potter, the boy wizard who, with a wave of his wand and entrance into a whole Hogwarts world, renewed children’s interest in books.
Coady also stages the Reader’s Theater, where teachers read a book and dress as characters within the pages of the tome.
The librarian in the district’s Burns Avenue School, Butler is the master of ceremonies for “The Burnie Awards” which are fashioned after the Oscars and named after the school. This year’s theme was biographies; in past years it has been heady topics such as the “best books of the past 100 years.”
Butler provides students with ballots containing four titles in each of several categories. They vote on the book they like best in each category. On the day of the event, Butler rolls out the (red) carpet to make it shine. She has a cast of about 80 students dressed up as characters from books, while other dress as celebrities who hand out the coveted prize to the winner in each category.
No word on whether or not she has a fashion commentator.
“It really makes the kids want to read the nominated books, and every student feels involved because, even if they aren’t in the show that year, they have voted and they are part of the experience,” Butler said.
HCT member Catherine Altobello, a librarian at the East Street School, helped prepare students for an author visit sponsored by the PTA. This year, the guest was John Sazaklis, a Hicksville graduate and New York Times award-winning author. The PTA bought a book for each student.
She also helps host a weeklong guest reader program each year, where parents, administrators, political leaders and community members read a treasured children’s book to a class.
Altobello also works with the Hicksville Public Library to “play up their summer reading program.” This year’s theme is “build a better world.”
All of the district’s librarians, including Veronica Sylvia, Jadwiga Slupek, Christine Janda and Anne Johnson, build on summer reading programs in conjunction with the PTA, Glenn said, and they all take part in Dr. Seuss’s reading birthday week celebrations.
The librarians at each school also help students craft videos to enter into the “Everyone Has Rights” Public Service Announcement video contest sponsored each year for elementary students by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.
This year, they blew away the competition with a record-smashing seven victories in the public service announcement category.
“Districtwide, our library media specialists do an phenomenal job,” said HCT President Glenn.
And now, as the 2016-17 school year closes, they are off to professional development programs or summer jobs or vacation and, most definitely, they’re off to catch up on their own reading.
Coady’s favorite book?
In a flash, she answers “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt.
“It’s really children’s literature, not just a kid’s book,” she said, marveling at the figurative language. “It just transports you.”