In the Spotlight: LA Library Specialist Juliette Portnoy!

Juliette with the kids in the library.

Reading Role Models.
Literacy Leaders.

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

Spotlight on our literacy leaders: the Library Specialists!

“The most important asset of any library goes home at night – the library staff.”
–Timothy Healy

Without our dedicated Library Specialists, our work would be incomplete. They work each week with our teachers and families to make the library come to life for the children. We often share our favorite parts of the job with each other, but we especially want to share them with you, our supporters! So what is it really like working in a Books for Kids library? Let’s hear what our Library Specialists have to say about our work…

Hannah: Las Vegas, NV
“I’ve been with books for kids since September 2015. I believe our most important job is helping to instill a love of reading in young children. Through listening to and interacting with stories we read, these students can explore feelings, relationships, and the world. When we send books home, both checked out books and gift books, we give families extra opportunities to enjoy literacy together and foster a bond over a love of reading.”

Kids in Las Vegas gather for StoryTime with Ms. Hannah.

Vanessa: Boston, MA
The group photo is a favorite! It is lending time. The books to borrow have been selected and everyone is getting an early start on reading and waiting to check out.”

Lending-ready books mean kids get to borrow their favorites again and again.

Jackie: New York, NY
“The big smiles and hugs that I get when the children enter the bright, colorful space brighten my every day. What I love about coming here is how much the families and children relish getting a book to take home every week and are so conscientious about returning it so their children can get a new one. It makes me so appreciative of the work Books for Kids does in enriching these children’s lives.”

Kids in Ms. Jackie’s StoryTimes know they get to bond over books each week with their dedicated Library Specialist.

Ashley: New York, NY
“I love blending early literacy education with performing arts to get the children excited about reading more in and out of school. I enjoy bringing the characters to life and teaching the children a dance or movement to go with the story so they can have something to take away and get excited about for the next time they open a book. We work with a lot of bilingual children and songs have been a useful tool in learning and understanding the books we are reading (Vocabulary, Pronunciations, Rhythms, etc.). I love to see my kids light up when they see me pulling out the book for StoryTime. I create a little suspense and magic each time I reveal the next story. It’s a joy watching the children at my schools grow and their love for books increasing throughout the school year!”

StoryTime with Ms. Ashley is anything but dull, especially when Peppa Pig is involved.

Tanya: New York, NY
“This student was very quiet in StoryTime and was often looking at the rug or had her hands over her ears. She connected with the book I was reading a few times but then went back to looking at the rug. BUT….when I brought out Peppa, her head flew up, eyes bright, and she began cheering and dancing around the room! She totally came alive in that moment. So it just goes to show the power of picking the right book for each individual child and what that can do! Needless to say, I will be bringing in more Peppa to this class in future!”

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During our final Build-a-Home Library giveaway this year, kids went CRAZY over the Peppa book they got to take home to keep forever.

Amanda: New York, NY
“I first met this mother when she stopped by the library to look at books with her son. Now they stop by the library together every Tuesday. This student loves books about animals and listens intently during every StoryTime. He likes stories about bunnies most of all. His mother says, ‘I have been reading to him since he was one day old.’ (And it shows) I have been truly touched by their bond. They are both always smiling and laughing together. They demonstrate the powerful impact that reading to your child can have on essential development and on the parent/child bond. This mother said that for her son’s first birthday she gave him a Dr. Seuss themed party and everyone that came got a goody bag with a Dr. Seuss book, which they brought to the library to show me. It is a bound book she made for him full of poems, quotes, and photographs from his Dr. Seuss party. In the photos from the party, there is indeed Dr. Seuss everywhere, from the cake to the tablecloths. What I noticed, however, was a photo of the student’s mom and dad wearing t-shirts that said, ‘Thing One’ and ‘Thing Two.’”

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Our libraries provide joyful spaces for children and their families to share special moments.

Sam: New York, NY
“There are few things as exciting as hearing children exclaim, ‘It’s library day!’ when they see me in the halls. I wish I could be at my schools every day to continue my not-so-quiet StoryTimes and spread the love of reading.”

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Ms. Sam is at it again, proving that the library is a space for learning AND laughs, with her not-so-quiet StoryTimes.