In the Spotlight: LA Library Specialist Juliette Portnoy!

Juliette with the kids in the library.

Reading Role Models.
Literacy Leaders.
Magicians.

Our Library Specialists have a lot of unofficial titles, but what never changes is the importance of the work they do and the passion and dedication that they have for guiding our youngest readers towards literacy success.

Juliette Portnoy is our Los Angeles Library Specialist, and she found her way to us in 2016 after graduating with a BS in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University. Her experience ranges from casework in foster care to working as a counselor in various school settings. In March 2018, she will celebrate her two-year anniversary with Books for Kids!

We wanted to give you a closer look at the work Juliette does day-to-day in our libraries. So we asked her a few questions.

Tell us about your first day in the library and how you felt. Has anything changed for you since then?
“When I first started working in the libraries, I myself was unsure of my ability to engage fairly large groups of children in StoryTime. I was worried that perhaps the children would be easily distracted or simply uninterested. Now, the children show me on a daily basis how excited they are and they request songs that have become a part of our routine. They love hearing new and old books and are always eager to take a book home from the library. In most cases also, the children have become responsible lenders and I am sure that most books will be returned in a timely fashion and in great condition!”

What techniques have you found most useful for engaging kids in StoryTime and Lending? What advice would you give to the parent of a “reluctant” young reader?
“I have found humor to be most effective in engaging children in StoryTime. The kids love the funny books, Pete the Cat, Here Comes the Big Mean Dust Bunny, Polar Bear’s Underwear, and books of that sort tap right into the child’s sense of humor and they immediately become engaged. In addition to choosing silly, funny books, adding funny voices and sound effects can really make a story come alive for the kids. Another technique that works well in engaging children is asking a lot of questions about what they think may happen or why a choice was made, etc. I even choose books without many words, like Rosie’s Walk, where, just by looking at the pictures, the children can tell the story themselves. Another way to get kids reading is by selecting song books, like Jamberry and Baby Beluga. Simple yet memorable melodies can make reading an exciting and engaging activity for the little ones!

The advice I would give a parent of a reluctant reader is, don’t give up. Similar to the introduction of different foods to babies, sometimes young children need to be introduced and reintroduced to story time and books several times before they get comfortable with the activity and find they like and enjoy it. Of course, choosing books that are about a topic of interest, like cats or ballerinas or garbage trucks, is always a great way to enhance engagement in young children. There’s a book out there for everyone!”

Tell us about a particularly special experience you’ve had in the library.
“Honestly, every StoryTime is special. I am always greeted with warm hugs and smiles and requests to hear songs and books over again. The children have made me cards and expressed their gratitude to me in a variety of ways that are so meaningful to me. One thing that always puts a smile on my face is when we are reading a story and a child relates something in the books to something that they’ve experienced personally and are so eager to share it with me, they can’t contain themselves!”

Here’s a multi-part question! What is your personal favorite picture book?
Which book do you have the most fun reading in StoryTime?
What is your favorite BFK library shelf category?
“There are so many great books, it’s hard to just choose one! I love the book I Like Me, about the pig who simply enjoys her own company and appreciates the little things about herself. I think this book teaches a lesson that all of us can benefit from. I also love reading The Best Nest, Are You My Mother?, The Cat in the Hat, Baby Beluga, Gaston, and countless others! I have two favorite shelf categories, the “Character Traits” section and the “Animal” section. These are both filled with my own and my students’ favorites!”

And finally, a question we love to ask our readers of all ages: What’s a book you read for yourself recently and loved?
“I am currently reading A Journey to the Heart, which is a daily meditation book that contains a lot of inspiration, especially when going through a tough time. I am about to begin Emerald City for my book club, and I am looking forward to that one! Should arrive in an Amazon package tomorrow :)”

Juliette with the kids in the library

From Page to Screen: Addressing Screen Time for Children

“From birth to about three years of age, each second represents the creation, by the brain, of seven hundred to one thousand additional neuronal connections.”

Dana Suskind

Lately, I have been on what feels like “A Screen Time Crusade.” Whether I’m informing parents of the dangers of their child spending too much time in front of a screen or questioning our nation’s obsession with technology-literate toddlers, I am working to educate caregivers and help them combat the potential consequences of prolonged exposure to screens.

Research about the long-term effects of screen time are still developing, but because we know that interacting, playing, talking, and reading with our children is crucial to maximum brain development, we also know that constant screen time will not match or exceed the value of face-to-face learning. For this reason, among others, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children under 18 months old should only be in front of a screen while video chatting. Children ages two to five should not exceed one hour of screen time each day, and that is only for high-quality and interactive programming (AAP).”

What are babies really learning if they are passively watching material while simultaneously over-stimulating their brains with the pace, sounds, and colors of videos and “educational resources” presented to them on a screen? “In 1970, the average age in which children began to watch television regularly was 4 years. And today, based on research that we’ve done, it’s 4 months. It’s not just how early they watch but how much they watch. The typical child before the age of 5 is watching about four and half hours of TV a day. That represents as much as 40 percent of their waking hours” (Dr. Dimitri Christakis on NPR’s When It Comes to Kids, Is All Screen Time Equal? September 11, 2015). Each of those seconds matters, and it’s important to not waste time with screens that overstimulate the brain with flashing colors and sequences that are too fast to process. These types of programs teach the brain that life is constantly moving, changing scenes, and that one can receive immediate gratification. This is why it’s not surprising that one study from Seattle Children’s Hospital found that, “For each hour of daily TV viewed by the child before age three, the risk of Attention- Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by age seven increased by 10 percent,” (Jim Trelease, The Read Aloud Handbook, 145).

Have you ever come up with amazing ideas in the shower? Perhaps while walking your dog? Maybe when you’re about to fall asleep? That’s because you’re allowing your brain to reflect on the day and make new connections. We all know we should not fall asleep in front of screens, “but scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: When people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas” (Matt Ritchel, Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, New York Times, August 24, 2010).

All parents and caregivers want their children to achieve their greatest potential, which is why we must lead by example. It breaks my heart when I see adults wearing headphones or earbuds, ignoring the child’s needs and curiosity of their surroundings. Not only is wearing headphones during daily interactions sending a message (intentionally or not) to the child that their questions, desire for interaction, and love are not important, but they are learning that those adult behaviors are acceptable, and they will do the same as they age. Just like we model good reading behaviors to our little ones, we need to model appropriate usage of screen time. We cannot avoid technology, but we can put the screens away in order to be more present in our children’s lives. How about pointing out the signs and logos in your neighborhood, grocery store, or on the bus? It’s an easy way to read, wherever you are. And is there anything better than reading together? You can also make sure you are prepared for times when you may need to occupy your child by carrying board or paperback books, paper and crayons, or word games you can play together.

Not all screen exposure is harmful to children, which is why the AAP includes video chatting as the acceptable form of technology use for children younger than two. Another way you can make screen time valuable is to use closed-captioning. “Enabling the TV’s closed-captioning is the equivalent of a newspaper subscription, but unlike the subscription, it costs nothing” (Jim Trelease, The Read Aloud Handbook, 153). This is especially beneficial to lower-income families who may not have access to a library or additional income for books.

Screen time is an almost unavoidable activity in all of our lives. In order to make the most of technology, participate with your child, even if it’s simply asking a question when the program is finished, discussing the topics covered, or pointing out features from the program in your real life. Make the screen time valuable, and share the experience.

Your turn! What are some of your favorite strategies for making the most of and limiting screen time? Let us know in the comments below.

Book recommendations to enjoy with little ones:

screen time recs

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty & illustrated by David Roberts
Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis
Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima
Play by Dr. John Hutton & illustrated by Sarah Jones
Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell

And a book recommendation for those interested in further reading:

read-aloud handbook

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

by Samantha Murray Doktor, Books for Kids Program Officer
Follow Sam her on her literacy Instagram account @gabandgrow for more book recommendations and tips.