Friday, June 26, 2009

Perfect introduction to libraries

Each year when I go to visit classrooms to talk up the public library and all of the services we offer, I draw up a master list of books that I'll book talk and a story book or two that I'll share.  I always start fresh at the beginning of the year, creating a new list, so that I'm not repeating any of the same material. This year, I discovered a fabulous gem.  How on earth did I miss this book when it first came out?  I have had so much fun reading this book with classes this year.

Young Beverly, a grey bearish kind of animal, is simply beside herself with pleasure at finally acquiring a library card of her very own.  With the assistance of the bird-like librarian Mrs. Del Rubio, she checks out a book on dinosaurs.  Beverly loves her selection, reading continuously throughout the week.  When the due-date on her book passes, Beverly begins to panic.  Her friends at school unhelpfully advise her that fines will almost certainly be assessed, "Oh, like a thousand dollars, I think" and one schoolmate even tells her that jailtime is a possibility.

After waking from a nightmare where she's threatened by a dinosaur (sporting red hair and cat eye glasses very similar to Mrs. Del Rubio's) growling, "Return meeeee!  I am overduuuuuuuuuue!" Beverly's mom reassures her that "Nobody ever went to jail for an overdue library book."

Happily, Mrs. Del Rubio is able to sort everything out, and Beverly meets Oliver, another dinosaur enthusiast at the library where they are able to start an after school Piedmont Dinosaur Club.

I love this book on so many different levels.  First of all, it describes how libraries work and what to expect in very simple, relatable terms:  
One must have a library card to check out books.  
Getting a library card requires filling out a form.
It does not take very long to acquire a library card.  
Books that are borrowed should be returned by the due date.  
Late books will have fines.  
Getting a fine on your library card is not an insurmountable problem. 
Libraries can be used as a social space to meet with friends.

It explains all of that, but it is also really very humorous!  The book is ideal for reading aloud.  The gouache and ink illustrations take up most of the page and the heavily bolded outlines of the pictures make it easy for children to see, even from a distance.  There's ample opportunity for using different voices for the various characters.  The comic timing of the book is genius.  Additionally, if one is running short on time, or faced with an antsy audience of preschoolers, the book can be ended a bit early, on the page where Beverly returns her book.  If  reading it with older groups of children, you can read all the way to the end where Beverly co-founds the Dinosaur Club.

Beverly's childlike blend of earnestness, enthusiasm and worry reminded me of the Frances books by Russell Hoban.  Librarians everywhere should have this in their arsenal of sure-fire, crowd-pleasing picture books.

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