Being a children’s librarian isn’t for the weak. Whatever they might tell you in library school, your job is going to involve: a.) daily conversations about the state of the bathroom, b.) regular encounters with the bodily fluids of individuals to whom you are not related, and c.) crying (sometimes the children, sometimes the parents, sometimes you). I’ve been in the business of librarianship long enough that I’m used to these things. For me, the challenge that never gets old is our summer reading school visits.
At the end of the school year, we endeavor to visit as many schools as possible and attempt to convince groups of children to visit the library repeatedly during the summer. On some level, elementary school children are easy. I have their attention the moment I utter, “We have Wii games.” I aspire to something, more, though. I want to do something memorable, something they’ll feel good about—and I want that something to be connected to a book.
For years, I’ve been showing off my string tricks. The kids in Webster are kind of used to my string tricks by now, but some still suspect that I am capable of magic (which I TOTALLY AM). They’ve also heard a lot of my stories, although I’m encouraged to find that they don’t mind hearing them again. Still, I’m always on the lookout for something new to add to my repertoire and grab their attention. This year, it was 2006’s Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? and 2007’s Knock, Knock!
As is so often the case with these things, my decision to use these books was a whim. I was running around the morning before I had to visit a school fretting that I didn’t have enough cool stuff in my Cool Stuff Bag when I saw Knock, Knock! on the shelf and tossed it in. Then I very randomly picked it out of the Cool Stuff Bag when I was standing in front of the first class and opened to the joke by Brett Helquist (“Knock, knock! Who’s there? Ima. Ima who? Ima gonna huff, Ima gonna puff, and IMA gonna BLOW this house down.”). We all laughed, so I tried some more. The most successful jokes were the old “lettuce in” one by Saxton Freymann (perfect, right?), “a mosquito bit me” by Boris Kulikov, and the loooong Easter bunny one by Henry Cole. I never shared the whole book with any of the classes. Rather, I shared a few jokes and encouraged kids to come in and check it out. As I became more comfortable, I started connecting the artists to their books. (Me: “Brett Helquist is the artist who illustrates the Series of Unfortunate Events books.” Two or three children: “I’m reading those!”) The whole thing worked as well with fourth graders as it did with Kindergarteners. It’s a book, it’s funny, it celebrates art—what more could a librarian want?
A second one, of course. Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? was equally successful. As soon as I held it up in one class, one boy shouted, “OH YOU HAVE GOT TO SHOW US THE ONE WITH THE MUTANT ZOMBIE CHICKENS!!!” This boy’s advice is good: show them the one by Harry Bliss with the mutant zombie chickens. Marla Frazee’s chicken running toward a slide was popular, as was David Shannon’s “Because the light was green!”
Since I love you, I will share my Patented Favorite Way to End a Summer Reading Visit: “Go home and tell your parents you want to go to the library RIGHT NOW!”