May 18, 1995 in Features

Telling Stories Special Program Brings Library Magic To Kids In Day Care

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Cecilia McGowan tucks a black stuffed Scotty dog named McTavish into a giant tote bag, swoops up a big yellow box full of children’s paperbacks and heads for the library door.

“I have the best job in the whole world,” she says, winding her way down to the library’s parking garage. “I get to do something I love immensely and I get to meet children who think I am Santa Claus.”

McGowan is a children’s librarian at the Spokane Public Library with a $70,000 federal grant and a mission: to bring stories, mentoring and kits full of library books to every licensed day-care home in the city of Spokane in 1995.

Called Project Right Start, this library program has allowed McGowan to serve people who don’t normally venture through its doors. They are the overworked, underpaid home day-care providers, who don’t dare round up babies, toddlers and preschoolers for regular trips to the library.

They lack the car seats and seat belts required to transport their entire crews, or they’ve learned from experience that a library visit with eight tots can be a disaster.

Today McGowan pulls up to Shannon Selland’s house on St. Thomas Moore Way. Selland tried once to take her day-care kids to the library. “It was a nightmare,” she says. “It was disturbing to the other library customers. The babies were crying and crawling everywhere. It won’t happen again.”

McGowan sweeps in, settles on a corner of the living room carpet - just beneath the shut-off television set - and launches into “Leo The Late Bloomer.”

Four pages into the story, the room has fallen absolutely silent. The six preschoolers sitting cross-legged on the carpet in front of her are mesmerized by this amazing library lady.

McGowan has short, sandy brown hair streaked by gray and round tortoise-shell glasses. She could resemble a librarian, maybe, if she ever stopped talking. She doesn’t.

“I come from a family of talkers,” she says. “You had to learn to talk at an early age just to keep up.”

She loves to hang out with her other wild, boisterous librarian friends. Once three of them, armed with bear bells, went hiking in Glacier National Park. Another hiker met the chattering trio on the trail. “You know,” he said, “you ladies wearing bear bells is superfluous.”

McGowan reads stories with great inflection. She pops up her eyebrows and whispers. She speeds up; she slows down. She shouts. As the book draws to a close, her smile practically explodes.

She tells the story of “The Hungry Caterpillar.” He manages to eat one apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, five oranges, which the preschoolers help count aloud.

At the end of the story, he manages to magically disappear into a puppet cocoon which McGowan holds aloft. She turns the cocoon inside out, and, voila, a velvet butterfly wafts into the air.

The children’s mouths drop open.

Storytelling time ends. McGowan stamps each child’s hand with a bright green bunny stamp and doles out hugs from McTavish.

Afterward, McGowan chats with Selland and offers her the big yellow box. It’s a Project Right Start kit full of 25 picture books which Selland can read aloud to the children, two cassette tapes and an adult resource book. It’s already checked out for 28 days.

McGowan explains that when Selland’s ready to return the kit, she can call her branch library 24 hours ahead, and a new kit will be checked out and ready when she drives up. The transaction will be faster than cashing a check.

“We know you guys sometimes work 12 hours a day,” McGowan says to Selland.

The kits, soon to number 200, are scattered through every city library branch. They’re available to anyone. A grandma and grandpa, expecting a weekend visit from preschoolers, could check one out.

Project Right Start, which also includes a series of workshops for day-care providers, will last only a year, but the kits will remain circulating indefinitely.

Though weeks have passed since the Oklahoma City bombing, McGowan knows the topic has been on these preschoolers’ minds. She’s brought a soothing story, “The Runaway Bunny,” for them.

Selland says they’ve been consumed by questions. They keep asking her, “Are the bad guys in jail? How do they eat in jail? Did the bad guys see the kids (in the day-care center) before they set off the bomb?”

Selland tells them it’s hard for her to understand, too. She’s planning to help the children plant a tree in her yard on June 3 in honor of the children who died. Gov. Mike Lowry, and maybe even a film crew from “Good Morning America,” will attend. She tells McGowan that it seems to comfort the kids to think the tree will grow for those children who can’t anymore.

Driving back to the library, McGowan exclaims about the children she’s met. “That preschool age is so dear,” she says. “They’re so honest.”

McGowan believes parents should read 20 minutes a day to children that age.

“I started reading to my children in utero,” she says. “I read to my children every night until they wouldn’t let me anymore. You can’t read to a child too much.

“Most people say, ‘Where am I going to get that 20 minutes?’ I say, ‘Try it for two weeks. It’s addicting. You won’t want to give it up.”’ Today has been full. McGowan has appeared at three different day-care homes.

“I’ve read ‘The Little Mouse,’ ‘The Red Ripe Strawberry’ and ‘The Big Hungry Bear’ at least 50 times, but I still love it,” she says.

It can be tiring to be “on” so much of time. Still, McGowan relishes telling stories to preschoolers.

“I find it energizing and invigorating,” McGowan says. “You always get back more than you give.”

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Day-care workshop Project Right Start’s first workshop for day-care providers will be at 10 a.m. Saturday . Patricia Mainella, a District 81 reading coordinator, will discuss “Children’s Literature: Ways to Enhance a Child’s Literacy Growth.” The free workshop will be in the first floor meeting rooms at the Downtown Library. Storytime and crafts will be provided for children upstairs in the Children’s Room.

2. Preschool Reading Tips To help a preschooler prepare for reading, Patricia Mainella, District 81 reading coordinator, offers the following tips: Read daily. Your children will learn about story form: plot, character and setting. They’ll pick up that books are read right to left, top to bottom, front to back. They’ll learn about syntax, grammar and vocabulary. Look for picture books with rhyme, repetition and great illustrations. When a child asks for the same story over and over, comply with his request. If you’re truly sick of it, make a tape of yourself reading it aloud. Buy lots of children’s books. Encourage your child to “write” his own, with scribbles and drawings. Put a note in your child’s lunch box. Ask his day-care provider to read it to him. Ask your child to help you make out the grocery list. Scribbles are fine. Help your child create holiday cards, letters and thank-you notes. At first he’ll only manage to sign his name, and draw a picture. Buy a set of magnetic letters and let your child play with them on the refrigerator. Start a family message center where children can leave notes and reminders for the rest of the family. For wriggly children, read at bedtime, when they’re a calmer, captive audience. Get your child a library card. Schedule regular visits to preschool storytimes. Make up stories to tell your children aloud. If you’re not feeling terribly imaginative, sweet stories of the child’s birth or babyhood are always big hits. Visit the Children’s Corner Bookshop for Saturday morning stories at 10 a.m. -Jamie Tobias Neely

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Day-care workshop Project Right Start’s first workshop for day-care providers will be at 10 a.m. Saturday . Patricia Mainella, a District 81 reading coordinator, will discuss “Children’s Literature: Ways to Enhance a Child’s Literacy Growth.” The free workshop will be in the first floor meeting rooms at the Downtown Library. Storytime and crafts will be provided for children upstairs in the Children’s Room.

2. Preschool Reading Tips To help a preschooler prepare for reading, Patricia Mainella, District 81 reading coordinator, offers the following tips: Read daily. Your children will learn about story form: plot, character and setting. They’ll pick up that books are read right to left, top to bottom, front to back. They’ll learn about syntax, grammar and vocabulary. Look for picture books with rhyme, repetition and great illustrations. When a child asks for the same story over and over, comply with his request. If you’re truly sick of it, make a tape of yourself reading it aloud. Buy lots of children’s books. Encourage your child to “write” his own, with scribbles and drawings. Put a note in your child’s lunch box. Ask his day-care provider to read it to him. Ask your child to help you make out the grocery list. Scribbles are fine. Help your child create holiday cards, letters and thank-you notes. At first he’ll only manage to sign his name, and draw a picture. Buy a set of magnetic letters and let your child play with them on the refrigerator. Start a family message center where children can leave notes and reminders for the rest of the family. For wriggly children, read at bedtime, when they’re a calmer, captive audience. Get your child a library card. Schedule regular visits to preschool storytimes. Make up stories to tell your children aloud. If you’re not feeling terribly imaginative, sweet stories of the child’s birth or babyhood are always big hits. Visit the Children’s Corner Bookshop for Saturday morning stories at 10 a.m. -Jamie Tobias Neely


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