Checking in with Check It Out, Mister Ben

Meet Ben Collinsworth, early childhood educator and self-identified "totally obsessed with the library." He has an awesome Instagram page—Check It Out, Mister Ben, opens a new window—where he reviews and recommends books. We kid you not, Ben has earned some major kudos:

  • Ambassador for Excellence from the Arizona Educational Foundation
  • Teach Excellence Award from Tucson Values Teachers
  • Crystal Apple Award from the Metropolitan Education Commission
  • Tucson 40 Under 40 from Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • Early Childhood Literacy Champion from the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona

How could we not want to introduce you to him? Without further adieu... enjoy this Q&A! Also, be sure to check back—we'll be doing more fun posts with Ben in the future!

WAIT... Before you start reading, take a look at this heartwarming Teacher Leader Spotlight, opens a new window

Who’s your hands-down favorite children’s book character? Why?

Is it cliche or predictable to say Mo Willems's The Pigeon? I love him because I remember seeing his books way before I got into teaching —just browsing a bookstore—and laughing out loud. I think that's how I fell back in love with picture books after not spending a lot of time with them since my own childhood. Of course, The Pigeon is still a classic favorite in my preschool class; he's basically an Id with feathers which makes him very fun to interact with. But also, I can't draw but I can draw The Pigeon, so maybe that makes him my favorite.

If you could be anyone in literature (any age, any genre) who would it be and why?

Okay the key to this question is to not pick a main character or even a secondary one. That way you can avoid all the drama while still enjoying the plot and setting. So I'm going with Owl Eyes from The Great Gatsby. I'd like to just be at a fancy party snooping around someone else's book collection. No hot hotel rooms, no speeding cars, no pools. Just books and drinks.

What is one word that describes your relationship with the Library?


What’s your favorite thing about the library?

I love how accessible it is. In the dullest darkest depths of the pandemic it was so comforting to have things like Libby, Kanopy, and Freegal allow me to enjoy the library's services without leaving home. I use the library for work and for fun so I always appreciate that digital and physical media is just a click away.

Do you have an early memory of going to the library (Pima County, or elsewhere)?

I grew up across the street from a mall in Phoenix, with the Yucca Branch of the Phoenix Public Library just around the corner. I remember visiting with my family and not even bothering to check anything out - just sitting and reading every single Morris and Boris book. I also remember that the drinking fountain there had the coldest water of any fountain I've ever encountered.

What message would you send encouraging people to get library cards?

Oh, geez. My main advice is to get a library card before I have a chance to talk to you about it, because I am very annoying about it. But really I would remind people to think of their public library as a benefit of their community. No one with access to a library is ever truly alone. Plus it's FREE! If you can afford everything the library offers without a card, then give me some of your money, Daddy Warbucks. Let me buy some new shoes. 

Why do you love being an educator?

That could be a whole article by itself, but here's the short answer. When we learn something new or form a new kind of understanding, magical fireworks go off in our brain. And every once in a while, those fireworks show up in our eyes or in our smile—a little, involuntary spark that says "Okay wow, I am more connected to the universe than I was a second ago." Teaching allows me to be present for so many of those firework moments, which I don't think I'll ever get tired of.

Tell us a bit about your Instagram account Check It Out Mister Ben.

I am very bad at Instagram and taking pictures in general. But taking pictures of books and other things from the library is easy, and so is writing a quick caption about how I reacted to something and why. I get so much from the library and I thought the account would be a fun way to share it with others.

What are you reading now?

Something really out of character for me—a nonfiction book about people doing things outside. Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar is an investigation into the mysterious, tragic events of a Russian hiking expedition. So there's spookiness, secrets, and snow—three great things to get through a Tucson summer!

Dead Mountain