Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sylvia Anderle, Children's Librarian

I invited Sylvia Anderle to guest-blog for me this month. Sylvia has been the Children’s Latino Outreach Librarian at the Fairview Branch of the Santa Monica Public Library since 1991. Her Cuban-American background has enhanced her ability to work with the community and better understand the challenges faced by many students. The library serves a diverse population, with a large concentration of Spanish speakers and low-income families. Many of the youth in this area are considered at-risk.

In 2005 Sylvia Anderle won the New York Times Librarian Award.

How I use nonfiction books in the library

Monday is class visit day. Between 9 – 11a.m. children in grades K –2 visit the Fairview Branch of the Santa Monica, CA Library. Most of them visit on a monthly schedule so we have a year to develop a relationship. Children love to hear stories, and folktales are frequently a wonderful way to introduce them to people and ideas from other cultures. I always try to include one folktale in each of my 20-minute presentations. I prefer using well-illustrated tales for sharing with a large group.

Both boys and girls love funny stories, but they also enjoy hearing about strong characters, villains who get their comeuppance and magical happenings. I usually try to end our sessions with a beautifully illustrated nature book. There has been an explosion of this type of work in recent years bringing insects and wildlife up close and personal with minimal text. These books are universally popular, but especially so with reluctant readers (usually boys). I try to put as many of these titles out on the tables for the students to check out. They always circulate!

My K and 1st grade classes come from the three local elementary schools and reflect the diversity of our community. I am always surprised to find how few children can recite Jack and Jill or sing Mary Had a Little Lamb. I try to have fun with the students in pretending to “review” these nursery favorites without making them feel that this is babyish. Of course, the foundation of most story times for babies, toddlers and preschoolers is sharing nonfiction from our Nursery Rhyme and Songbook collections

I enjoy my monthly class visits very much, but I really love being called by an upper grade teacher who has assigned a specific topic and wants me to book share. Biography was my most recent request. I had 45 minutes to booktalk a selection of biographies that would hook a 4th grade class. Their assignment was to read the book, and prepare a presentation to the class dressed as the personality. Current sports celebrities were in demand as well as Anne Frank, Helen Keller and the big favorite, especially among the boys, Harry Houdini.

Try as I might, I was not successful in selling some lesser-known but fascinating personalities. The kids were jazzed as I booktalked, but the final selections were sadly conventional. Finding books that engage older students who are not reading at grade level is one of my biggest challenges. By 4th grade students are expected to function at a certain level and they see themselves as “big kids.” Unfortunately, many biographies of 100 pages or more are beyond many of our English language learners.

Once a month I host a Homeschoolers Book Club. I assign a topic for each meeting and the kids are free to read a book and share it with the group. Over the years, I have found non-fiction to be the genre of choice. Homeschoolers seem to devour information books of all kinds, from trivia to science, geography, history, and biography. And, because they are free to follow their interests, they enjoy delving into more details than traditionally educated children. Judging by the group I see, they are able to read at a higher level and seem less bound by peer pressure to stick with the familiar. It is a group I always enjoy.

Finally, poetry is something I try to include as much as possible with class visits. Be it nursery or traditional poetry, rhyme is always welcome with young readers. During April, we invite students to learn or write a poem of their own, and share it with library staff. The reward is a free book. Our poetry collection is in high demand especially during this time.

Nonfiction is alive a well at the public library! It is exciting to see how technology is enhancing book illustration and how current authors and publishers are actively expanding the concept of children’s nonfiction.

1 comment:

Loreen Leedy said...

Interesting post, Sylvia, thank you very much!