Posted on January 11, 2023 at 6:00 am
One of the best parts of working in a public library is interacting with children. Their wonder challenges adult cynicism. Their questions often make us think about the world in a new way.
I asked my colleagues to share some of their favorite interactions with children in the library. Here are some of those stories that we love.
Kids can be tough customers! Sometimes the problem is a language barrier. Take this exchange for example:
Child: Do you have the Goonies?
Librarian Corinne: The movie? No, it’s checked out.
Child: No, the Goonies music.
Corinne: The soundtrack to the movie?
Child: No! You know. The Goonies has all the people who are the best at things. All the best music people!
Corinne went to a library shelf, pulled out the Guinness Book of World Records, and turned to the entertainment section.
Child: The Goonies music! Hurray!
During a different interaction, Librarian Diane was asked for books on “jalapeño horses.” Diane recalls: “I Googled it because I’ve been wrong when doubting a request before. When I saw all the images of peppers with toothpick legs in my search results, I said, ‘Let’s go look in the horse section.’” The child left with a book about palomino horses.
Sometimes children clearly explain what they want to read and have very specific requirements for their books.
Child: Do you have any dinosaur books besides these ones?
Me: Maybe. What kind of dinosaur books are you looking for?
Child: One with REAL pictures. These ones are just drawings.
We talked about the sad lack of photographs of dinosaurs, but thanks to the talents of some hyper-realistic artists, I was also able to find a book (Age of Dinosaurs) that satisfied him. This conversation is much more difficult when the child is interested in unicorns.
Librarian Diane met a young man with a different complaint about the books in our dinosaur collection. He said, “None of these dinosaurs are attacking!” This was the perfect scenario to recommend Tyrannosaurus Rex Vs. Velociraptor, part of the Who Would Win? series.
Librarian Diane also met a 2nd grader looking for the perfect book. The child described it: “It has pirates in it, and it takes exactly 20 minutes to read.” Deborah Lock’s book Pirate Attack! fit the bill. This was verified when the child timed himself reading it. People read at different speeds, so your perfect book may vary.
Most children are wary of interacting with strangers. But every once in a while, we meet a social butterfly who won’t lose a chance to make a new friend. When a caregiver and librarian are nearby to assure that the interaction stays safe, it can be quite heartwarming.
An adult male was working on a computer near the children’s section. A small girl clambered up into the heavy wooden chair next to him. She settled herself, then struck up the following conversation:
Girl (enthusiastically): Hi!
Man (uncertainly): Hi….
Girl: What are you doing?
Man: I’m printing information for veterans.
Man: My Little Pony and Ceci?
Girl: No, not Ceci. Si-Su. You spell it: S-E-E-S-O-O. She’s a dragon. She’s really cool. You should try it sometime.
The library offers 80 free pages of printing a week plus the option to send your printing jobs to the library from your home computer or mobile device. I encourage you to take this child’s advice and print something that brings you joy.
Sometimes during storytime, the dramatic tension in a book can prove to be too much for the listeners.
Once, as my colleague Salena turned to the climatic page of Dragons Love Tacos, in which several dragons are shown breathing fire into the sky, a little boy hollered out “Sweet mother of pearl!”
Another child grew increasingly agitated as the group moved through Mo Willem’s interactive picture book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! His exasperation grew as his fellow listeners gleefully chorused “No!” to the pigeon’s repeated pleas. Finally, the boy burst out: “Just let the pigeon drive the #$&*#% bus already!”
Our Play & Learn Storytimes offer stories and an optional play time with carefully chosen educational toys. Play time can be where many of the best child interactions take place.
5-year-old boy speaking for a T. rex puppet: I have something to tell you. I’m going to have a baby.
Me: That’s so exciting!
Boy/T. rex: I’m sorry you missed the baby shower. Your card got lost in the mail.
Me: That’s okay. Do you know if you are having a boy or a girl?
Boy/T. Rex: No. We haven’t had the gender reveal party yet.
Partial understanding of the facts of life often causes innocent merriment at storytimes.
Once my colleague Jacob handed a child a shaker egg musical instrument. The kid shook the egg, heard the rattle, and said “Woah! There are a lot of chickens in there!”
My favorite interaction stars a 4-year-old storyteller with uncertain grammar. During play time, he took me by the hand and led me back to the storytime chair. He patted the floor to show that I was to sit facing the chair. Then he climbed into it.
Boy: I tell story. My turn.
Me: Okay, I’m ready. Tell me a story.
Boy: Once upon a time, there Pennywise. Him clown.
I was surprised and don’t recall the rest of the story verbatim. I believe Pennywise led the world’s greatest villains in a coordinated assault on the civilized world, but then he double-crossed and killed them all because he was really a good guy all along. This must be what it would be like to have young Stephen King at storytime.
We’ve met a few children with dark imaginations.
My colleague Amber recalls a child playing with toy cars after a storytime. He crashed them into each other head on, made some small screams, then somberly declared, “They’re in a fiery Hell now, and nobody brought the marshmallows.”
If the last few stories were too dark for your taste, rest assured that we also meet sweet children in the library. In fact, one child came to the Airway Heights Library to give the staff a handmade “Good Citizen Award.”
Bulletin boards in staff areas are often graced with artwork and thank you notes from children. Here are a couple from our archive.
In fact, any time my enthusiasm wanes, a child is sure to come into the library and remind me just how cool my job is.
During a visit to Spokane Valley Library, one child proclaimed, “This library is like a dreamland! Not only does it have books, which I love, and music CDs, which I love, but also a 3D printer!”
A dreamland indeed.
On behalf of all the library staff, I’d like to thank all the parents and educators who bring children to the library. We know it can be difficult to get small children in and out of the car. And this year’s snowfall hasn’t helped.
So kudos to you, parents, who make the trek to the library. You are investing in your child’s future, and you and your children are what keeps us going.
Dana Mannino is a librarian at Spokane County Library District. She plans library programs for adults and serves as an SCLD liaison to the Latinx community. At home, she hosts biannual Lord-of-the-Rings–themed parties and watches BritBox. How does she take her tea? Very, very seriously.