Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Bunch Picnic Lunch

Summer reading: the time of year when we encourage kids to meticulously count the number of books they read or the amount of time they spend reading. We mention that listening to audiobooks and listening to other people read aloud counts as reading, but does that option really register with them? What can I, the librarian, do to promote all sorts of reading among kids of all ages?

Recent reads at Book Bunch Picnic Lunch

Well, for one thing, I can read to them. Who says story times have to stop after preschool? (Although calling it "story time" post-preschool age is a surefire way to massively limit school-age attendance.) I love listening to books read aloud, and all sorts of folks--teachers, researchers, literacy specialists--emphasize that school-age kids do, too. That's why I offer a series of programs during summer reading called Book Bunch Picnic Lunch.

Our picnic area
Book Bunch Picnic Lunch is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of kids and their grown-ups get together at lunchtime for a picnic, during which books are read. As the librarian, I do the reading. I also provide drinks and dessert, so kids need only come equipped with a sack lunch. I spread out a tablecloth on the program room floor (no ants), set out sit-upon cushions for comfort and personal space, and pick some treats--of both the sweet and story kind. Then, for a full hour, I read to the kids gathered around our picnic space.

I read a variety of things. I choose funny picture books that are guaranteed to get some giggles, and I read longer picture books that are nominated for the state award for first through third graders. I read chapters and excerpts from longer books, both fiction and nonfiction. I even read some of my all-time favorite things in librarian read-aloud history, including Miss Nelson is Missing and "The Great Mouse Plot" from Roald Dahl's autobiography Boy (I would be remiss if I didn't mention that reading this chapter aloud has been one of my librarian dreams ever since seeing Meg Ryan read it as the Storybook Lady in You've Got Mail). I always have a variety of books piled around me so I can offer the picnickers options. If they become bored of a tale, we move to something else; if they really enjoy another, they can all crowd around the pictures.

If you do as I do and buy drinks and treats from the dollar bin at the grocery store, this program provides a very effective bang for your buck. It is always such a pleasure to have older children sitting rapt with attention, so enthralled they stop chewing, at a story that has grabbed them; and parents are always keen to say what a luxury it is to have someone else do the reading for a change. Kids make recommendations for the sorts of stories I should read aloud next time, and sure enough, they're at the next Book Bunch Picnic Lunch to see if I've chosen their recommended titles. This program inspires a dedicated following of participants, and the kids actively look forward to the next session. They tell me they would still attend even if they didn't get to count the time as reading on their SRP booklogs. That's praise.

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