2 Years with BFK! A Spotlight on Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper

Our Library Specialists are at the core of what we do. Once the library is built, it is the programs and people inside that truly make it a resource as they guide children toward a love of books and a lifelong journey of learning. As R. David Lankes said, “Bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.” And Hannah, our Las Vegas Library Specialist, keeps community at the heart of everything she does. She’s been with us two years and we wanted to shine a little light on her important work.

Hannah has had a deep impact on the children and families that come through her library, so we’re sharing some of those fun and special moments with all of you.

Here are some of Hannah’s favorite moments from her last two years, in her own words:

It’s always really fun to celebrate the changing of seasons with the students at my schools. For example at two of my sites, we’ve had “Fall in Love with Reading” events to celebrate fall. For a parent event at Variety last year, I created a big, fake fireplace so families could “cuddle up with a good book.” If it hasn’t become clear, I love a good pun. After the event, I kept the fireplace in the library until winter ended. Sometimes during their library session, children would say they were cold. My response would be to pull the fireplace closer and let them carefully warm their hands. With warnings to be careful and not burn themselves, they would typically touch the tissue paper and, all smiles, pretend to have burned themselves. I love kids’ imaginations and how they’ll play along with almost anything!

Not only do my students say the cutest things, but they make the silliest faces! Last year, I laughed way too hard at our impromptu “David Face” contest. Prior to going to the library that day, I hadn’t planned on having any contests. But when I told kids to make a face that looks like David from the series by David Shannon, it was too funny for their classmates and teachers not to see. We decided to have a contest where Books for Kids staff would decide which children made the best “David Face” and give them a free book. All participants received a sticker. With fun activities like this, I hope to reinforce that books aren’t just serious, they’re fun!

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Marlowe, Hannah, and the rest of the class enjoying The Black Book Of Colors.

Each year I have some returning students and meet lots of new children that I haven’t worked with before. This year, one of my new students is Marlowe*. Being blind, we wanted to make sure Marlowe still felt represented in the library. The moment I asked Lisa about braille books, she started looking for books we could add to our collection. I wouldn’t be able to do my job nearly as successfully without Lisa’s constant support and the enthusiasm of the entire Books for Kids staff. I chose to read The Black Book of Colors not just to Marlowe’s class, but to the all the children at every site. Students loved touching the bumpy pictures in every class. However, it was extra special during Marlowe’s class when she enjoyed the book and never wanted to stop touching the pages. Several staff members have reached out to me and said that Marlowe loves the library books she takes home. She finishes a book and then starts it over again right away. Sometimes it can be difficult for teachers and librarians to see the impact they make, but in this case, I can tell something special is happening.

As a staff, stories like Marlowe’s are shining light posts that take us from day to day and year to year. When books can bring that special feeling of being seen to a child and bring a class together, it is all the proof we need that books can change lives. We hope these stories have given you a glimpse into the world Hannah has created for the kids in Las Vegas.

Thank you, Hannah, for all your work and all your love over the last two years. Books for Kids is glad to have you in the family.

 

*Name has been changed for privacy.

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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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!”

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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.

Books for Kids in Boston: Two New Libraries!

In the words of Elephant and Piggie, “We are growing!” We are pleased to announce that we’ve opened, not one, but TWO brand new libraries in Boston, Massachusetts. Thanks to the generosity of the Mario Batali Foundation, a long-time Books for Kids partner, the more than 430 children and families served by ABCD Geneva Early Head Start and Horizons for Homeless Children now have Ms. Vanessa as their dedicated Library Specialist in the library.

Opening a library is no small task. My favorite part of the process is calling the organizations to notify them of their future library and literacy programs. The joy that comes when children are provided these kinds of resources is infectious, and I know how much it’s going to mean to the kids, their families, and their teachers. But every moment, from the build and installation to the ribbon cutting day, is thrilling to our team, so we thought we’d share a little of that excitement from the Boston opening with you all.

Once the library location was chosen, our partners from Windmill Studios traveled to Boston in March to bring the library vision to life. There are many considerations when designing a library for the youngest learners (think: can they reach the shelf?), and we make sure that it’s an environment that’s both fun and encourages developmentally appropriate learning. Once Windmill takes over, they paint, install shelving, and affix the decorative wall elements. The process takes about one to two days for each library.

And now, it’s time to talk about the best part: the books.

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What’s a library without books?

I ordered the books for each library in February, and the boxes were all delivered in March. The number of books purchased for any of our libraries depends on the number of children enrolled, so collections can vary drastically. BFK’s Executive Director, Amanda Hirsh, and I traveled to Boston on March 29th and went straight to ABCD Geneva, the larger of the two new libraries. With the help of several volunteers, Amanda, Vanessa, and I unpacked and organized over 2,000 books! (That book order is one of my proudest accomplishments!) The following day, we did the same at Horizons. This collection, of which I am also exceptionally proud, was a collection of over 1,000 books.

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Look at all these books! And there are many, many more.

The only thing left to do was open the library.

On March 31, 2017, Books for Kids participated in Read Eat Grow, an event sponsored by the Mario Batali Foundation to celebrate their dedication and support for Books for Kids, as well as to two other organizations they help support: FoodCorps and First Book. The ceremony took place at ABCD Geneva, and all the attendees got to see the brand new library in person, complete and brimming with books. Children wandered in and out of the library, enraptured, one even exclaiming, “I saw this when there weren’t any books! It looks better now!” High praise. First Book distributed thousands of free books to educators and FoodCorps passed out a delicious and healthy treat. The event epitomized the mission of the Mario Batali Foundation: to ensure all children are well read, well fed and well cared for.

And what happens after a library opening, when the speeches are done and the cameras go away? Literacy programs began at both schools the following week. Our Library Specialists lead magical StoryTimes, facilitate book lending, and plan and implement literacy events for families and teachers in all their libraries. Ms. Vanessa noted that two of the most popular StoryTime books at both schools are This Book is Out Of Control by Richard Byrne and Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson. The students at Horizons studied authors at the beginning of the school year, so they tend to choose books by Mo Willems to borrow for the week to read at home with their families. The students at Geneva love borrowing Peppa Pig books each week.

We thank The Mario Batali Foundation and all our other generous supporters for helping us spread the love of reading and high-quality programming across the country. We look forward to all the exciting opportunities and special StoryTime moments to come.

Here’s a library from start to finish:

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