School visits build positive relationships and remind kids the Library is here for them...
When they see El Rio Library staff member Angela in her bright orange shirt that says “Exercise your mind… READ!” the students know they’re in for fun.
It’s the African American Read In, coordinated by Tucson Unified School District’s African American Student Services, at Tully Elementary School. More than three dozen kindergartners sit on a bright green reading rug waiting for the special Storytime to begin.
Angela introduces herself and the kids jump right in. “I know that place [El Rio Library]!” and “I go there when I do my reading log!”
She pulls out a copy of Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut. It tells the story of a black boy at a barbershop. The book received rave reviews when it debuted, including “A not-to-be-missed portrayal of the beauty of black boyhood” (The Horn Book Guide).
Turning to the first page, she smiles, “We’re going to the barbershop with this one.” A student calls out, “Miss Angela, what’s an ode?” Already, the story has the kids thinking, asking questions, and learning.
Angela begins to read, “Like a dark Caesar…. A brilliant blazing star!” She swivels in the chair making sure every child in the room can see. Attentive and wide-eyed, some even “oooooh” and “aaaah” when she reads the last line, “You leave feeling magnificent, flawless. Hello, world!”
The next book, Yo! Yes?, tells the story of two lonely characters, one black and one white, who meet on the street and become friends. It has very few words—34 to be exact—but Angela loves it. “Books with only a few words allow the kids to interact with it. This one is always a hit!”
Angela reads and the kids echo the words back, shouting out their own thoughts. One says, “He has no friends, that’s why he’s sad.” Another remarks, “The word ‘look’—I know that one. It’s a sight word!”
After finishing the third book—why am I me?—Angela says, “Today I’m going to give you all a book.” Cheers fill the room.
“There are plenty to choose from,” she says. “We’ve got one about a sailor; this one’s about a poet. Have you ever heard of the Hallelujah Flight? We’ve got that, too.” Many of the books are bilingual; the characters are people of color. All of them were carefully selected.
“We want kids to see themselves in books,” Angela says. “It’s an important way to develop a connection to the story and a lifelong love of reading.”
Angela shouts, “Raise your hand if you had fun today.” Unsurprisingly, everyone raises their hands.
Tully Elementary is just one of many schools throughout Pima County that Library staff visit regularly. “It makes perfect sense,” Angela says. “When you tell a student ‘Hey, we’re just down the road from here, stop by and see us,’ it reinforces the Library as a place not only for learning, but one where all are welcome and encouraged to be their best selves.”
Last year, Library staff made more than 240 visits to local schools, reaching nearly 13,000 students!