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