Librarian Revs Up Young Readers

Book `battles' and other programs make this library more than just a place to do homework. INTERVIEW

FORTY to 60 kids were expected, and 122 clamored to get in. An animated line of eager children and their parents stretched in front of the library doors one recent Friday evening. The library? On a Friday night?

It was ``Battle of the Books'' night at the Ventress Memorial Library here.

Children's librarian Ann Hayden takes the unexpected arrival of so many in stride. This kind of turnout is not unusual for the programs she has energetically initiated during her 20 years in the community. ``It has been a very good program, because kids who haven't been able to read are reading so they can play the game,'' says Ms. Hayden.

Battle of the Books is part of a series of activities planned for the children of Marshfield by Hayden and the library staff, launched in conjunction with the Library of Congress's announcement that 1989 is the Year of the Young Reader.

``Actually, we had already planned a grant before the Library of Congress announced its program,'' Hayden admits. ``I had sensed an upsurge in an interest in reading both by parents and children.'' The Year of the Young Reader coincided nicely.

Several of these programs are targeted specifically for the more than 2,000 elementary school-aged kids in Marshfield. ``It's very easy for all children's librarians today to do programs for preschoolers ... it's a sure success. Programs [that will interest] elementary-age children are more difficult to do,'' says Hayden. The library has a preschool story hour four days a week, expanded this year by demand.

For a books battle, the library supplies schools with paperbacks from which staff and teachers prepare questions. Panels of students try to answer them.

Usually, the battles are held at the local schools, but this night the children were invited to the library. ``We mixed the schools in the panels to avoid competition between schools,'' Hayden says.

Contestants, including selected team captains, sit at two tables of 10 each. A questioner, in this case Hayden, quizzes Table One. Table Two gets a chance if the first panel does not answer correctly. Suspense is heightened by the presence of a timer and tally keeper. Points are given for the correct book title and additional points if they know the author. (Sample question from ``battle'' text ``Name that Book'': Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack, and Quack are characters in this story set in Boston. See end of this article for the answer.)

Hayden, a longtime children's librarian, observes that ``some people like to think of the children's library as a microcosm of the adult [library], and in some ways it is, in that we offer the same services. ... But there is a difference, because I think that we have a responsibility to offer the best [literature] to children who are just developing their knowledge ... and to introduce the library as a pleasant, welcoming place that will establish a `library habit.'''

When Hayden visits the schools, she often talks about the library and some of its programs. ``I see who has a library card, and I usually bring a book list and tell them a story. I've got a Scotch ghost story I'm going to tell ... they always love ghost stories.'' One objective of Hayden's is for every elementary-aged child to have his or her own library card.

Other programs under the library's umbrella for the Year of the Young Reader:

A four-hour ``readathon'' - 200 children, plus parents and teachers, brought sleeping bags to the library one Friday night.

``Not for Children Only,'' a six-week, parent-teacher workshop on children's literature as a genre for all ages.

``Indian Summer,'' a program focusing on the Wampanoag culture of the area through reading, story telling, dance, and crafts.

``No-TV Week,'' where children and their families were asked to go without TV for a week and discover new kinds of activities. (``I was careful not to make it something imposed on kids or say that I was anti-TV.'' says Hayden.)

Unplugging the TV was the most ambitious program. A few years ago Hayden met Nancy DeSalvo, a fellow children's librarian from Farmington, Conn. Farmington was made famous by its month-long TV blackout in 1984. Ms. DeSalvo had been disturbed by what she observed as a decline in the reading skills of youngsters and suspected that TV might be the culprit.

HAYDEN noticed this decline, too: ``I think the big drop is [children] reading for pleasure. ... There are fewer kids that will pick up a book for the love of reading.'' She decided to try a TV turnoff in Marshfield.

In preparation, she visited elementary school classrooms and invited the children, their families, and teachers to participate in a one-week turnoff.

``I said, `You probably don't think I own a set, but I do. I own two, and sometimes I walk into the den and watch whatever's on. That's not the right way to do it.' So I thought we could turn it off for a whole week and then think about it. ...'' There are lots of other good things to do, she pointed out - talk with your family, be creative.

According to Hayden, ``first reactions of classrooms are almost always absolutely `No!''' But with discussion and suggestions, attitudes change. Some entire classrooms decided to take the plunge.

After ``No-TV Week,'' the library held a recognition party. Participants received certificates and swapped stories. A first-grader named Jessica said, ``I liked it without TV. It wasn't so noisy. I enjoyed listening to radio and dancing.'' But a boy named Billy admitted, ``It was pretty hard, especially in the morning. I watch while I wait for my breakfast.

One parent said she moved the TV out of the kitchen, and now the family talks at mealtime. Another parent said the week caused the family to ``rethink the whole thing - my husband and I noticed on Friday night that there was a lot more harmony in the family, nobody's fighting about what they're going to watch and what time to go to bed.''

Hayden says she was pleased with how the program had touched the community. Judging from comments by children and parents, Hayden's enthusiasm for the library has rubbed off.

``The children really love her,'' says one parent. Dennis Corcoran, the library director, echoes this feeling:

``Our success has been mainly due to Ann, because she's been able to hold it all together.''

(Answer to the ``Battle of the Books'' question above: ``Make Way for Ducklings,'' by Robert McCloskey.)

RELATED BOOKS

NAME THAT BOOK! (To be used for the Battle of the Books; available with a computer diskette that asks questions about books.) By Janet Greeson and Karen Taha. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 1986, 259 pp., $19.50; diskette $24.50; book and diskette $39.50.

UNPLUGGING THE PLUG-IN DRUG (Handbook used by librarian Ann Hayden for No-TV Week.) By Marie Winn. New York: Penguin Books, 1987, 208 pp., $7.95.

WHAT TO DO AFTER YOU TURN OFF THE TV By Frances Moore Lapp'e. New York: Ballentine Books, 1985, 197 pp., $7.95.

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