Category Archives: Libraries

Book Talk: The Invisible Toolbox

by Adrian of the Westmont Public Library

Did you know that The Invisible Toolbox is available on audio too? It’s not only a quick read, it’s a fast listen, too, at just two hours. Here’s what Adrian, the youth services librarian at the Westmont Public Library, has to say about it:

“You may have heard that it’s important to read aloud to your child from birth, but you may not have heard why…”

The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence is available on audio as well as paperback through these links:

How Reading Inspired Jane Goodall’s Life Path

The Power of a Story to Ignite Imagination

Ground-breaking primatologist. Anthropologist. Conservationist. Speaker. Author.

Jane Goodall’s list of accomplishments is well known, but what may not be as widely recognized is how she came to be the remarkable woman she is today.

From early on British born Jane loved animals. In 1935, on the occasion of King George V’s silver jubilee celebrating 25 years on the throne, her father gave one year old Jane a stuffed chimpanzee in honor of the birth of Jubilee, a baby chimp born at the London Zoo the very same year.

Jane traces her early fascination with animals all the way back to her own little Jubilee who resides with her still in her childhood home in England. But it wasn’t until she was a little older that this affection expanded into a passion that would ultimately draw her into a career that changed the way the world understands animals.

She became an avid reader who found her way to the books that were right for her and, because of those books, she found her life’s passion.

As a young girl Jane grew into a voracious reader and spent hours at the public library or perched on stacks of books at her local second hand book shop. When she could save a little money, she was occasionally able to buy one. In a lovely letter to children published in A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, Jane explains how these books inspired her future:

“…in the summer I would take my special books up in my favorite tree in the garden. My Beech Tree. Up there I read stories of faraway places. I especially loved reading about Doctor Dolittle and how he learned to talk to the animals. And I read about Tarzan and the Apes. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read.”

At the age of ten Jane decided that when she grew up she would go to Africa to live with the animals and write books about them. And that is just what she did.

Jane’s story beautifully illustrates the power books have to inspire the human imagination.

One can’t help but wonder…what if Jane had grown up in a different time? Consider the present for instance. What if she’d had access to screens and the internet and never fell in love with reading as she did? Would Jane Goodall have become the person she is today?

I wonder.

By reading to our children from the beginning and supporting their love of reading throughout their childhood, every child’s imagination can be sparked and ignited.

Books have a unique capacity to fire the imagination. Neurologists now know that we humans experience reading fiction as if it’s actually happening to us. All parts of the brain are engaged when we read, not just the region that processes language—which is what we used to think. The deep and organic engagement that comes with written text doesn’t happen with fiction depicted through images on a screen. A book that a child becomes immersed in, however, literally becomes a part of them.

Jane read and reread the Tarzan books, developed a crush on the noble savage himself, and was quite put out at his choice of a partner. “He married the wrong Jane.”

Fortunately for Jane and for the world, she grew up in the time that she did. She became an avid reader who found her way to the books that were right for her and, because of those books, she found her life’s passion.

What does Jane’s story have to say to us today? Simply this. As parents it is our responsibility to nourish our children’s inner worlds.

Jane was fortunate in having parents who encouraged her to believe she could do whatever she set out to do. They also supported her love of reading.With the myriad distractions parents and children face today, helping children find their way to the books that inspire them is a taller order than it was in Jane’s time. But, it is definitely doable. By reading to our children from the beginning and supporting their love of reading throughout their childhood, every child’s imagination can be sparked and ignited.

And who knows where that might lead to?

How the Love of Reading Saved Oprah’s Life and Unlocked Her Potential

Why Oprah’s early life of poverty, neglect, and abuse wasn’t the final word…

She’s one of the wealthiest, most powerful women in the world. She has excelled in every form of media. Her stamp of approval on anything in almost any sphere influences thousands. Maybe millions.

But when you consider her early years, the trajectory of Oprah’s extraordinary life is not one anyone would ever have predicted. Here are the facts:

  • She was born a black child to an impoverished unmarried teenage mother in the deep south in 1954
  • Oprah’s spent her earliest year living with her maternal grandmother Hattie Mae who taught her to read by age three, took her to church, and believed in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child.’ “Oprah was beaten almost daily.” (Krohn, Katherine E, “Oprah Winfrey: Global Media Leader,” USA Today)
  • Because they were so poor, she wore potato sacks for dresses and was made fun of
  • At age six Oprah went to live with her mother whose work as a maid left little time for her
  • An uncle molested her when she was nine years old.
  • At 14, Oprah ran away from home, became pregnant, and had a son who died shortly after birth

There’s scant reason to believe that a person with a background such as Oprah’s could overcome it and become not only functional, but an extraordinary success story.

So, what happened?

Although she had stayed with him intermittently in her younger years, as a teen Oprah went to live permanently with her father Vernon who was instrumental in helping her turn her life around. For the first time, she had consistent structure and encouragement. According to Oprah,

“…every single week of my life I lived with them I had to read library books and that was the beginning of my book club. Who knew? I was reading books and had to do book reports in my own house. Now, at 9 years old, nobody wants to have to do book reports in addition to what the school is asking you to do, but my father’s insistence that education was the open door to freedom is what allows me to stand here today a free woman.”

Unquestionably, Oprah exhibited innate intelligence and verbal gifts as a child—she learned to read by age three and her grandmother recalled her playing at interviewing her corncob doll. But the combination of loving discipline and bi-monthly trips to the library was the catalyst that changed her world. “We would go to the library and would draw books every two weeks. I would take out five books, and I would have a little reading time every day.” In high school, Oprah became an honors student and was voted Most Popular Girl. Her transformation had begun.

Poverty, neglect, and abuse are part of Oprah’s story, but they don’t define her now. Falling in love with books became the key that unlocked her intelligence, her innate verbal and empathetic gifts, and her ability to imagine a different life for herself. Reading opened new worlds for her and empowered Oprah to move out, little by little, into a life beyond the limitations and suffering of her childhood.

Source material:

Reading for Life: Oprah Winfrey,” American Libraries Magazine, May 25, 2011

“A Childhood Biography of Oprah Winfrey,” Blackfacts.com

Family Read-Alouds: Comfort in a Time of Uncertainty

Social distancing is an opportunity to cultivate a family routine that benefits everyone

With children home from school and multiple disruptions in the daily routines that keep us grounded, families may be more in need than ever of new ways of being together that bring comfort. Reading together as a family can fill that need.

How to get started?

Sooner or later, you will need to develop a schedule for your family. Whether your work keeps you home or takes you away, your children will do best if they are provided with some structure that includes keeping up with school work, time for independent reading, and play.

Schedule a time in the day when your family gathers to share a read-aloud together and stick to it. This can be an enormously comforting way to wind down the day as you bond over a great story. Regardless of when you come together, what’s most important is that you create a ritual that everyone can look forward to and count on.

What to read?

Family read-alouds are the perfect opportunity to introduce children to the books they might not pick up on their own: the classics. (See resources below.)

What are the classics, and why are they such a great choice?

As I tell my students, the classics are stories that are so outstanding that they have stood the test of time, and appeal to readers regardless of their time in history.

They make excellent read-alouds for families because of their cross-generational appeal. Classic stories have complexity and universal themes, and lend themselves to rich discussions.

Reading the classics enriches us and enlarges us intellectually—and spiritually too. As screenwriter William Nicholson wrote in his biopic of C.S. Lewis, Shadowlands, “We read to know we’re not alone.”

The daily comfort of connecting with characters in a gripping story, surrounded by the people you care most about, may just be the perfect port in this storm.

Recommended Read-Alouds

Check out these resources.

“It may be small, but it’s mighty…”

When I met my newborn book for the first time, it wasn’t love at first sight. I held the tiny tome* in my hand, eyeing it critically, wondering what people would think. Couldn’t she write a book with more pages? Would they think it lacked substance?

A smallish gift book was what I’d planned all along, a volume so not intimidating and so visually appealing that even the most reluctant parent reader would consider picking it up. But when my agent and I met with my editor and the company’s CEO last month via Zoom and learned that Mango had reversed their earlier decision and now planned to print The Invisible Toolbox in soft cover instead of hard, my heart dropped. I was not only disappointed; I was worried. Would a softcover gift book have the same appeal as hardcover?

Mango’s marketing department was concerned that titles comparable to mine were priced at a rate with which a hardcover book wouldn’t be able to compete. Like a wounded parent, I protested: But my book is unique! There isn’t anything out there quite like it. They weren’t moved. And so the decision was made. It was out of my hands.

“I wasn’t sure I could sell it. But then I couldn’t resist.”


When Federal Express left a carton of complimentary author copies on my doorstep this week, I called my agent. “It’s so little.”

She laughed. “Remember, I almost didn’t sign you because the book is so small. I wasn’t sure I could sell it. But then I couldn’t resist.” Julia believes in the message and understands what’s at stake. For her, it’s all about saving democracy. Maybe you’ve seen the meme: A child who reads will be an adult who thinks.

Thank you, Julia, for blowing away any lingering wisps of self-doubt. The Invisible Toolbox may be small. And it may even have a softcover. But its message is mighty.

* An oxymoron, I know, but I like the alliteration.

Thank you, Amy Dickinson, for Endorsing THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX!

Along with the down to earth advice she shares daily in her syndicated column “Ask Amy” ever since replacing Ann Landers in 2003, Amy Dickinson is a best-selling author and regular panelist on NPR’s “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me!” I couldn’t be more delighted to have her endorsement for The Invisible Toolbox: The Power of Reading to Your Child from Birth to Adolescence. Amy’s words were so beautifully written that my publisher put them right on the front cover:

“Kim Jocelyn Dickson has given us a gift. In lively and loving language, she opens The Invisible Toolbox and shows us what’s inside: opportunities for connection, inspiration, imagination, conversation, and joyful play. Literacy encompasses so much more than the important ability to read. Parents, teachers, and all who love children will be inspired by the author’s passionate advocacy, and helpful, compassionate instruction.”

When you read the “Ask Amy” column daily, as I do, you come to realize that Amy Dickinson is a book lover. Each year on her mother’s birthday in early December, she steps away from readers’ questions in her column to advocate for literacy through a tradition called “A Book on Every Bed.” Amy attributes her passion for reading to her mother, with whom she shared a lifelong love for and conversation about books.  For Christmas or any holiday or birthday she recommends placing a wrapped book on the foot of the bed of a child so that it’s the first thing they wake up to on that special day. Once your child unwraps it, snuggling up and sharing it together make a lasting memory. 

Amy understands the powerful connection that can happen when a parent shares a book with a child. I couldn’t be more honored that The Invisible Toolbox has the endorsement of this wise woman who also happens to be an enthusiastic champion for books and reading. Thank you, Amy Dickinson!

Available for pre-order now!

Thank you, Jeff Conyers, President of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and Dollywood!

Dolly Parton’s organization is doing amazing work promoting literacy. Her foundation has donated over a million books to children from birth to age five throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K. I couldn’t be prouder that THE INVISIBLE TOOLBOX has the endorsement of Jeff Conyers, the president of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Here’s what Jeff had to say after reading The Invisible Toolbox:

The Invisible Toolbox shares a simple truth that rises above the flood of information parents are subjected to: ‘Reading aloud to your child from birth is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give.’ This book will tell you why and what you can do to develop a lifelong love of books and reading with your child.”

Available now!

Babies, Maternity Wards, and Books—Oh, My!

“..what’s happening in St. Louis could be a blueprint for libraries and the medical community everywhere.”

by Kim Jocelyn Dickson

As a former third grade teacher, I’d often wished I could roll back time and meet the parents of my struggling readers at the door of their maternity hospital with a stack of picture books. There was nothing sadder to me than an eight year old that had missed out on being read to from the very start.

After years of teaching and observing students, it became clear to me that children who struggled in school lacked the necessary tools that come from being read to that their successful peers possessed. Brain science tells us that the first three years of life are critical in building the neural pathways that are the infrastructure for all future intellectual and emotional growth. In order for a child’s brain to make these connections, parents need to speak, read to, and sing with their babies.

According to the results of the 2017 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress—otherwise known as the Nation’s Report Card), which tests a cross-section of fourth and eighth graders from public and private schools every two years, nearly two-thirds of fourth and eighth grade students do not read proficiently. That the United States is suffering a crisis of literacy is beyond dispute, but the good news is that our awareness of the problem is growing and people and organizations are finding creative ways to address it.

When I recently learned that the thing I’d wished for was actually happening in my former hometown, St. Louis, Missouri, through a program called Born to Read, I was intrigued and had to learn more. A few emails and a phone call later with Library Director Kristen Sorth, and I was convinced that what’s happening in St. Louis could be a blueprint for libraries and the medical community everywhere.

In 2015 Ms. Sorth and her team of librarians and volunteers from the St. Louis County Library system, along with the support of a handful of local maternity hospitals, began reaching out to new parents with a gift that sends the message that babies and books belong together. Just two years later every single maternity hospital and clinic in St. Louis County were on board.

What inspired you to bring Born to Read to St. Louis County?

We brought this program to St. Louis County to help give families a head start. Studies show that when children start behind, they stay behind. The goal of Born to Read is to foster a love of reading starting at birth and to emphasize the importance of reading to children of even the youngest age.

That your program has grown to include every maternity hospital and clinic in St. Louis County—11 in all—since you began in 2015 is a tribute to your success. What, exactly, do the parents of each newborn in St. Louis County receive from the library?

 Each gift bag includes a board book, baby’s first library card, early literacy information, a baseball Cardinals’ beanie, and a voucher for two Cardinals’ tickets, a toothbrush, and another board book.

What do you hope each new parent gains from this gift?

 We developed the Born to Read program to reach families at the earliest possible moment. We want to convey the importance of reading and to make it easy for parents to introduce books into their daily routine.

Was gaining the support of the medical community challenging in any way? Is their support at all difficult to maintain?

 The hospitals think it’s a wonderful program. The nurses love giving the bags to the families and encouraging them to read to their children. They know the materials in the bags are purposeful, and they hear great feedback from the families. Ensuring that the hospitals are stocked with enough bags so they never run out can sometimes be a challenge since the nurses and hospital staff are incredibly busy and can’t always let us know right away when they are low. Our weekly visits help to keep them stocked.

Once the initial gift is given, do you follow up with parents later on?

 Parents and babies are invited to the library for a first birthday celebration. The Born to Read parties include story time, sensory play with bubbles and, of course, cake. Parents are also given another free book to take home. These parties are a great first introduction to parents, showing them the variety of resources available at the library.

We also stay in touch with parents via a monthly Early Literacy e–Newsletter, which provides early literacy tips, library event information, and other library resources.

Is Born to Read having an impact on the community? If so, how?

Every child born in St. Louis County now receives a library card, thanks to the Born to Read program. We’re helping create a new generation of readers. To date, we’ve distributed almost 40,000 bags.

With the involvement of every area hospital and clinic you must need a lot of help. How do you accomplish the creation and distribution of all those gift bags?

Our Youth Services staff has done a fabulous job of maintaining the program. Every 6-8 weeks they have a Born to Read work day, where staff form an assembly line to stuff bags and package them for delivery. Each Friday we have a dedicated staff member who delivers bags to area hospitals and clinics. The program has been very popular among local volunteer groups as well. We have corporate and business groups that help stuff bags each month.

How is Born to Read funded?

 The St. Louis County Library Foundation helps raise funds for the program. We also have strong corporate support–-the St. Louis Cardinals and Delta Dental have been key supporters of the Born to Read program.

What is the program’s biggest success?

Born to Read has provided a unique opportunity for the Library to reach new parents at the very beginning. Before they even leave the hospital, parents learn about the importance of reading to their baby. We make it easy for them to utilize library resources by providing them with a library card, and the book voucher gives them an incentive for visiting their local branch.

Does the St. Louis County Library provide any other means of educating new parents about the importance of reading to their child from birth?

St. Louis County Library has a variety of early literacy resources for families at every stage of development. Born to Read is the entry point for many families; after that they can sign up for the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten or attend weekly story time at a nearby branch. Later we offer Kindergarten Prep workshops and resources such as FLIP Kits (Family Literacy Involvement Program) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) programming.

With the enormous success you’ve experienced in linking society’s primary stronghold of literacy—the library—with the medical community in order to reach new parents with this crucial message, do you expect to eventually see other communities follow your lead?

The Born to Read program has already been duplicated by St. Louis Public Library. Together, we’re reaching families and promoting early literacy across the St. Louis region.

If you live in the St. Louis area and would like to become a volunteer with the Born to Read program, please contact the Youth Services Department at 314-994-3300.

Author’s note: Born to Read is an American Library Association (ALA) trademarked program that encourages the connection between libraries and health providers. The St. Louis County Library’s program is exceptional in both its implementation and scope.

 

Why Children Need Their Own Library Cards

When I was growing up every kid I knew had a library card. It was standard issue for a child of my generation, used once a month when the bookmobile came to school and bi-weekly during the summer when our mothers took us to the library to pick out a stack that would last us—maybe—for two weeks.

Entering the library or the bookmobile as a child was like embarking on a treasure hunt. One never knew what new discovery might lie around the corner. I loved the sense that there was a seemingly endless supply of books for me to browse through and that any number of them—within reason of course—could come home with me if I so chose. If one of them turned out not to be my cup of tea, no problem, it simply went onto the return stack that would go back to the library. More often than not, the books I hauled home turned out to be a delightful haven for me in quiet moments.

Not long ago, I visited friends in a tiny eastern seaside town where they spend their vacations. Jack, who had grown up summering there, was especially eager for me to see the town’s charming stone library that had remained nearly unchanged for over one hundred years. He led me into the children’s section with as much gravitas as if he were leading me into King Tut’s tomb to see the Egyptian king’s riches. We came to the “B” shelf, and there he lifted one of Frank Baum’s original, much worn, hardcover copies of one of the Oz books. He had checked them all out many times as a child, and here they remained decades later. I moved farther down the stack to the “L’s,” curious to see whether one of my favorite series, Betsy-Tacy, had also survived. I was thrilled to see that it had, but even more elated when I discovered all the original Lois Lenski books shelved above them. I hadn’t seen these books, which I’d adored through grade school, in decades. It was like meeting old, beloved friends.

Books that we grow up with and love can come from any source, of course, but there is a special value in teaching our children to use the local library. The reasons for introducing our children to the library, helping them get their own library cards, and creating a habit of use are twofold and both have to do with empowering them.

First, using the library encourages children to regularly and frequently make their own reading choices. When books are purchased children make a greater commitment, which often necessitates adult involvement in the decision making process. This is not a bad thing–I don’t at all discourage buying books— it’s just limiting. Unlike a bookstore or online shopping, browsing and sampling are not restrictive. The world of books is a child’s oyster in a library.

Second, it’s empowering for a child to have a library card of their own as it implies both responsibility and privilege. Parents also ought to have and use their own cards. Making regular trips to the library in which both parent and child check out their own books–and shared books too for read-aloud time–communicates a powerful message to a child about the value, pleasure, and importance of reading.

As a teacher, I’ve seen the number of students who have library cards and use their local library rapidly dwindle in recent years. Many of them use only the school library or buy their books online. While both of these venues are fine, they are missing out on the uniqueness of what libraries have to offer–limitless browsing, freedom of choice, and the frequent reminder of the value of reading that comes when they visit regularly with a parent and exercise this privilege with their very own library card.