Cambridge Public Library youth services manager (and Horn Book reviewer) Julie Roach will be discussing library services for preschool children at our Fostering Lifelong Learners event (free; you should come) at CPL on April 25th. I asked her to share some of her thoughts on serving this (very) particular audience. (I think her answer to question #5 is one of the wisest things I’ve heard.)
1. What’s the most important thing about library service to preschoolers that you DIDN’T learn in library school and wish you had?
In library school you learn the theory and philosophy behind library service to preschoolers, which is as it should be. Children’s librarians need a solid background there before venturing out on their own. But I’m not sure any academic setting could have prepared me for what an emotional roller coaster a typical work day would be. Every day with preschoolers and their entourage rockets back and forth between hilarity and tragedy, discovery and near-disaster (or sometimes full-on disaster) and the situation gets more complex depending on how many other people are in the space and their range of ages and stages. In the mornings, our children’s room often has more than 200 people in it. The drama is both utterly addictive and completely exhausting.
2. If you were suddenly told you had to do a story time in FIVE MINUTES, what would be your go-to stories?
This actually happens to me quite regularly! Our storytimes skew pretty young, so I gravitate toward funny stories with very simple plots or concepts that invite kids to participate. They tend to involve animals or vehicles that make a lot of noise. I also want to make sure the parents and caregivers get to laugh—I want them to see how fun this all is so, hopefully, they’ll go home and keep reading aloud. I love Jan Thomas’s books, Bark George by Jules Feiffer, Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan Shea, The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom, Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard, Tiny Little Fly by Michael Rosen, A Perfect Square by Michael Hall, and Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s concept books. And if the group is such that everyone can see a smaller book, I have fun using Olivier Dunrea’s gosling books.
3. What is the darndest thing a preschooler ever said to you?
This is one of the job’s best perks–a conversation with a preschooler can take you to a whole new dimension! Although often they’re just saying out loud what everyone else is secretly thinking. Once a very small but confident child approached the desk and dramatically looked around our rather large children’s room. Then he looked right at me and demanded: “Which one is the best book?”
4. If you could give publishers of preschool books one piece of advice what would it be?
Keep making those really great books, please! The ones that make us laugh, the ones that make us think, the ones that make us gasp, the ones that make us a little scared, the ones that put us in charge. We especially like them simple!
5. And if you could give parents of preschoolers one piece of advice, what would it be?
All of the books in the library are free to borrow and you get to return them later, so let your young child pick out a book too, on his own—even if his choice is impractical or too hard or too easy, even if you have a copy at home, even if it’s the unabridged edition of David Copperfield! How empowering and special to get to choose your own book when you’re small. How deflating to hear that your choice is not suitable for you. Save some room in the library bag for the child to have a choice.