I was born a word person, or what the Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards might term a linguistic learner. I will always be a word person; it’s in my nature. But I am a stronger word person by nurture, which volunteering in the children’s department has helped me to remember and realize. In KinderPrep, for example, learning styles are likened to the food pyramid — balance and good habits. The stories and activities are followed by food, further linking educational and physical nurture. By participating in the program, parents and children have the opportunity to get more comfortable with literacy and learning styles before the transition to elementary school.
Programs like this are part of the reason patrons have stressed the importance of libraries as a children’s space: libraries enrich learning of all sorts. However, just as people don’t stop needing food after they grow to a certain height, people — particularly word people — don’t stop needing books after they learn to read. A word person can’t thrive without a source of words at any age.
In elementary school I stopped doing book reports. Everyone outside of school already quizzed me, not believing I had read without skimming, and thought it perhaps too much of a good thing. Reading for pleasure became something I had to sneak like candy. Some time after, I asked the librarian what books she was holding because I couldn’t see the titles. Looking skyward, she handed me The Magician’s Nephew and The Horse and His Boy and replied, “More books for you to devour,” adding, “Make sure I get those back; I need to put the pockets in.”
Some people were librarians in spirit. In high school, when many things were difficult, a Spanish teacher lent me occasional bags of paperbacks for no reason. “Read something, Hemisferio” — the tone rhymed with how one might say, “Eat something” to someone thin from a long illness. Spanish or English, fiction or not, Ayn Rand or The Accidental Tourist, it didn’t matter. I had permission to read them. How I did in other classes had no bearing on those books; the only condition was that I give them back.
Those gestures kept my strengths from being diminished or dismissed, so that my growth was not stunted. But I will never stop growing, though I grew away from the people who generously fed me. That is when libraries as places became crucial — again. Libraries embody such gestures, but perpetually and neutrally.
Yes, libraries do an excellent job of whetting an early appetite with programs such as KinderPrep. But even more, I think, libraries exemplify the adage about learning to fish: Give people a fish and they eat for a day. But provide them with fishing tools and they have a skill that can feed them for life…provided there’s still somewhere to go. Libraries are places to fish, regardless of how old you are or what learning style you possess. This word person didn’t go hungry after she left school — because the library feeds adult word people, too. When you advocate for libraries or literacy on behalf of your children, you are not only advocating once — remember that you are also advocating for the adults they will become.