Attack of the Kindergartners!

Elizabeth Bluemle -- October 24th, 2013

Every year, the Shelburne Community School kindergartners visit local businesses on foot, walking from their school down the long Harbor Road to town, settling in and asking questions about what it’s like to work in Shelburne. It’s a big outing for them, and we are honored to be one of their stops. This week, three kindergarten classes visited the Flying Pig for half an hour, taking turns between us, the town’s Pierson Library and their own school library. It was a whole day of celebrating books for the SCS Treehouse team.

After introducing myself and telling the children a little bit about the bookstore, it was reading time. With Halloween so close at hand, I couldn’t resist starting off all three groups with Ammi-Joan Paquette and Adam Record’s charming new GHOST IN THE HOUSE. It’s a really fun read-aloud with some great language, rhyme that invites prediction by young listeners, sound effects for sharing, and an amusing surprise ending. About the sound effects: I was gratified and amused that all three groups could carry off — at my request, and because of other customers in the store — a “very quiet shriek.” It was one of the cutest sounds I’ve ever heard, 20 five-year-olds at a time barely whisper-shrieking, “Eeeeeeee!” together.

After Ghost in the House, each group received a slightly different mix of stories, depending on what mood I picked up from the children. One group was hungry for lots of Halloween, so they got a poem each from Adam Rex’s FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH and HALLOWILLOWEEN: NEFARIOUS SILLINESS FROM CALEF BROWN, as well as Ross MacDonald’s quirky and amusing HENRY’S HAND. I loved watching their faces as I read that one. I was trying to gauge any five-year-old anxiety about a monster whose parts detach and whose hand runs away from home, but they were a smiling and receptive little audience. For two of the groups, I read David Shannon’s GOOD BOY, FERGUS! Totally shameless crowd-pleaser, that book, one that reduces kids to peals of giggles.

Because I am a children’s book author in addition to being a bookstore owner, and teachers like for me to share that experience with children, I also read each group one of my books. I love sharing my books with kids (though it’s harder to blog about because they are my own books, which feels immodest to talk about, so I will keep it brief!). Two of the Treehouse classes heard MY FATHER THE DOG and were adorable recognizing things dads and dogs have in common. The third group heard HOW DO YOU WOKKA-WOKKA?, which was great because they are working on rhyme and rhythm in class and kept the beat as I read with finger snapping and claps.

I used the connection of Halloween with bats as an excuse to read Ari Berk and Loren Long’s lovely NIGHTSONG to two of the groups, who were enthralled by the little bat’s solo adventure into the night world. They seemed wrapped in the book’s lyrical language and the warm mother-child connection that provides a safe and loving background to freedom and exploration and adventure. I had an interesting experience with this story. When I pulled it out for the second group, one little boy said, “I don’t like that book!” I said, “Have you heard it before?” He replied, “We have it at home and I’ve heard it again and again, and I don’t like it.” I said, “I hope you don’t mind if I read it. Why don’t you listen to it one more time and see if it strikes you differently this time?” I read the book, and this group, like the last, seemed to really love it. I asked the little boy, “Did you like it any better this time?” And to my everlasting relief, and gratitude for his open willingness to change his mind, he nodded strongly and said, “Yes. It was a different version.” I will never know if he had initially confused Nightsong with another book he hadn’t liked, or if the reading had just connected with him differently from before. It doesn’t matter. It was a happy outcome either way.

As each group left, the little ones waved their goodbyes, calling out all kinds of informational tidbits they felt were important for me to hold on to: their names, their dogs’ names, which of their dogs had died, when they had been or were coming back to the bookstore. James, the teacher of the last group, the ones who had kept the beat to Wokka, said that they would wokka all the way back to school. Later that day, Josie called me from her cell phone to say that she had seen James’s group  heading back down Harbor Road. “They looked so happy and lively!” she said. I asked, “Were they dancing around a little?”  ”Yes!” she said. I had to smile.

I’m not sure if all the children know much better today than yesterday what the exact difference is between a bookstore and a library, but I do know that they brighten, perk up, lean in, and fully engage with stories and poems that make them laugh, think, imagine, and wonder. And that’s plenty of worthwhile goodness for a kindergarten outing.

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