I did something really radical for Children’s Book Week this year–I read a book to a group of children! It was my second time being invited to Olds Elementary in Raleigh, and with no offense to my Libraryland colleagues, it was once again one of the most rewarding speaking engagements of my career.
I think I have even hit upon a recipe for success for talking to the kids in Mrs. Gordon’s media center (I still wish they would call it a library). I talk about being a writer, about being a reader. I tell them that if you can read, you can do anything. I ask how many of them think being a librarian would be pretty cool, and a few hands even go up.
I bring a bag of tricks with me, and I announce that in that bag I have over 160,000 books. One bright kid even called out “Your laptop is in there!” He got me. But before I get to the e-books, I tell them about the history of books. I even pass around a 1792 copy of Plea’s Heard Before the King’s Bench. Most of the old books these kids have seen are behind glass or locked in cases. I want them to smell the vellum cover and hold the pages up to the light to see the watermarks and lines from the paper-making process.
I tell the story that James Burke told me as a kid when I watched PBS Connections–how the mass production of underwear (and thus the ragman profession and plentiful supplies of used cotton) led to the mass production of books and the spread of reading by the masses throughout Europe and Asia. One only need say the word “underwear” to get huge laughs from third-graders.
Then I read them one of my favorite children’s books. Thank You, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco. In it, a dedicated teacher helps a girl with dyslexia discover the joy of reading that her grandparents described to her. Like a bee chases honey, so the reader chases knowledge through a book. I was floored by the utter silence in the room as I read. They were actually engrossed after a rather rambunctious start to the afternoon.
Then I pull out my tablet PC and talk about e-books and audiobooks, and the wealth of knowledge that lies at their fingertips. I admit that I do it for the wow factor…they love the tablet. They stared intently at the multimedia and sat as quiet as church mice to hear the “Learning Japanese” audiobook–just as they had for the print book.
I put away my tricks and ask them again how many think it would be cool to be a librarian. Now most of the hands go up. I ask them again what happens if they can read. “You can do anything!” comes the enthusiastic response. I believe it.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]