Building Readers and Relationships by Angie Moore
Growing up I had the sweetest elementary librarian named Mrs. Grove. She would sing to us, read us poetry, let us take turns holding the cutest stuffed Paddington Bear, and even had a wait list for favorites like The White Stallion, The New Kid on the Block or Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. She was my librarian from Kindergarten through 5th grade at Wilson Elementary and is the only librarian I remember to this day. When I became a librarian the first book I bought was Chicken Soup with Rice because she read it to us all the time and I can still remember her sing-song voice saying “Merry once, merry twice, merry chicken soup with rice”. In a time that is now filled with so many differing viewpoints and coming off of “Banned Books Week” I am so grateful for the variety of books we were allowed to check out from that library in the mid to late 80’s! I think of her often and would love to let her know how much of an impact she had on me, even if I did not recognize it back then.
In the summer of 2015, I attended the Scholastic Reading Summit and was able to attend a session led by my librarian idol John Schumacher, or as the kidlit world fondly calls him, Mr. Schu. My life changing takeaway happened when he was talking about his childhood library experience and how awful it was. His question to the group was “What do YOU want your students to remember about their library experience?” This really struck a chord with me. It made me remember Mrs. Grove and how I loved that time as a child. It also made me think about what I was doing to create a positive experience in my own library. Should I continue to nag students about book fines and overdue books? Or should I let it slide so they have the same opportunity as everyone else to choose new books? How many books should they be allowed to check out at a time? Was I going to let them choose whatever books they were interested in or would I have to give in to the dreaded levels? Other things that I thought about were how to connect my students with books, authors, illustrators, and others through reading, Skype, Twitter, the Global Read Aloud or just book talking great books. The thought that continued to stay with me was not just how to make the library experience a positive one, but how to build meaningful relationships with my students.
Beginning one of those meaningful relationships happened to me after returning from the Reading Summit. I was able to get early copies of many new books. Of course my boys and I read them all in the car on the way home, but I had purchased them for the school, so a few weeks later they were at school waiting to be processed. During our first few weeks of school, we did mandatory online testing, and I found myself assisting with a classroom of students. One student in particular was having a rough time after finishing the test and waiting for the others to finish. This was “that” student. The one who was always in trouble, always in the hallway or a time-out, always moping around the library with an attitude. Despite my past experience with this student, I was immediately reminded of Mr. Schu’s words. So I went to the library and returned with a small stack of other brand new, NOT catalogued books. I set the stack in front of him and said to find something to read. They were all brand new and didn’t even have barcodes yet! He looked through the stack, found a book and read it the whole time he waited…without argument! When they were getting ready to leave he handed it back and said he couldn’t wait until library time so he could check it out! So I told him he could read it and bring it back to me when he was finished. He couldn’t believe it! Truthfully, I couldn’t believe I did it either! But, he returned the book, and wanted to find others.This small thing, loaning a new book, never before read by his classmates, made a huge difference in our relationship the whole school year. We found other books to connect over, Sunny Side Up, A Night Divided and Among the Hidden were some of the most memorable and by the end of the year he was even recommending books to others.
This fall, on the first day of library, a class walked into the library, lead by a respectful, attentive, engaged, and wonderful young man who sat down front and center ready for whatever I was going to do. This was “that” boy. He had grown so much in just a year, and those who had known him just a few years before wouldn’t believe he was the same boy. Every time I think about this, I get goosebumps! Maybe this change had nothing to do with me. But I shudder to even think “What if I hadn’t?”
My experience last year completely changed how I see the students that visit my libraries. It is so much more than checking books in and out. It is about building lasting, meaningful relationships with all 600 of my students, and my hope is that when they come to the library they feel welcomed, respected, and valued, just like I did so many years ago with Mrs. Grove.
Angie Moore is living out her dream as a K-4 School Librarian in Lansing, Michigan. The 2016-17 school year will be her 7th year in a school library. She is a mom to two voracious readers and wife to an incredibly supportive husband. They live just outside of Lansing with their cats Buddy and Jovie, dog Daisy Mae and too many chickens to name here. You can find her drinking excessive amounts of coffee while working on her teaching certification or on Twitter where she takes numerous study breaks.