Southold Free Library’s wondrous Dana Hegquist and I have been reading to our second-graders for a few years and I want to tell you about some of the books they enthusiastically get involved in.
‘The Library Lion’ by Michelle Knudsen had the children wide-eyed. A lion enters the library and volunteers. Accepted, he dusts the shelves with his tail and does other tasks. A grouchy assistant wants him out; the Librarian says he stays. A minor accident occurs, the lion saves the day but breaks a rule while doing so. He roars! In the library! Can he stay? Must he go? It’s a sweet story, punctuated in several places by the Librarian demanding, “No running!” The kids love hearing this in Dana’s stentorian librarian’s voice.
(One of the teachers told me she had also taught first grade. I asked if there was a big difference. “Yes,” she said, “In the second grade they tell you when they’re going to throw up.” An important growth spurt, I thought.)
‘Porcupining’ by Lisa Wheeler tells of Cushion, a porcupine seeking a companion. He checks out the rabbit hutch, the pigpen and other sites and is insulted and rejected at them all. He finally discovers a hedgehog named Barb (!) and it’s love at first sight. Dana sandbagged me on this one, not telling me there were songs involved. She turned a page and blithely began singing, looking at me expectantly (and rather sternly). I joined in — each of us warbling a totally different melody, the kids laughing and loving it, an involved audience suddenly, not only a class.
(We consider a day successful when a librarian has to close the big, oak door because of the noise — kids howling like dogs, yelling out the responses, actively participating in the storytelling. No “library voices” here.)
Bill Grossman’s ‘My Little Sister Ate One Hare’ is a very funny book with outlandish illustrations. It’s a counting book: Sister eats one hare, two snakes, three ants (“She even ate their underpants”), worms/germs, lizards/gizzards, etc. Each two-page spread ends with, “We thought she’d throw up then and there. BUT SHE DIDN’T,” and the kids love to shout out those three words. They’re .all “eeww”ing and groaning as the disgustingness builds until Sister eats 10 green peas. This wholesome, nutritional food, of course, causes her to heave up everything (a great final illustration). At this point one of us grabs an enormous batch of shredded colored paper, pretends to barf and flings it all over the now-limp-with-laughter kids. Very sophisticated, eh?
(It’s notable that after each of the three classes last week the boys and girls, without being asked, cleaned up the entire mess and put it back in the box. Parents, your children are beyond wonderful.)
Reading to them is a tremendous gift. They participate eagerly, are rapt as the story unfolds and show us great respect. And bless their teachers, Lynn, Jean and Terry, as warm and kind to the children as you yourselves are.
I hope you’re reading to your kids; they hunger for it. Hundreds of imaginative books are available at our great libraries.
Mr. Case, of Southold, is retired from Oxford University Press and a former member of Southold Free Library’s board of trustees. He can be reached at [email protected]