Once there were certain books Stephanie Bujak didn’t want to read to the children. But it was not because she disliked the stories, it was because, at first, she was self conscious.
The children’s librarian at Wadsworth Library wanted to keep the children engaged, but at the beginning, she shied away from books that would require her to express lots of emotion.
Nowadays, she has no problem whispering and growling like the characters in the books, because she finds it helps put the children into the stories.
“We all pound with one hammer, one hammer, one hammer,” she says as she shakes her fist in the air during a recent story time. The children, who are standing, follow along as they work their way to five hammers, at which time they shake their hands and head, and stomp their feet.
“Faster,” one of the children says, before they all repeat the process.
The library staffs up
Bujak’s story time has only been happening since March, just a little bit after she started working at Wadsworth. She was working at the library before but was transferred to the Chestnut Hill branch to cover a librarian’s maternity leave. Following that, Bujak went on maternity leave.
Wadsworth was left without a full-time children’s librarian, which was particularly difficult through the summers.
There was one summer, as branch manager Juanita Vega-DeJoseph recalls, where a Temple University student worked with the children. She kept a blog to document their activities, and she helped the library exceed its goal of 500 participants for the summer reading program.The children are given a notebook that keeps track of when they come, and they can win prizes for participation.
Last year, Wadsworth did not reach its goal while there was no children’s librarian.
“It’s terrible to say ‘We don’t have a children’s librarian,” Vega-DeJoseph recalled. “It’s very disheartening.”
The reading room
This year, the library is preparing for summer reading.
In Wadsworths’ meeting room, which is downstairs, Bujak sets her station. On a Thursdays at 1 p.m., there is story time for children aged 5 to 8 and their parents. In the room isolated from the rest of the library, there are carpet squares placed on the floor, a table with art supplies and a couch for the adults.
In addition, Vega-DeJoseph has fliers handy to inform patrons of the summer reading program running from June 20 to Aug. 12. Children can sign up online or by going to the branch.
The Friends of Wadsworth Library, a group of eight local residents who promote the library’s activities, will do fundraisers so they can invite professionals in to do activities with the children over the summer, says Emelia Belardo-Cox.
She has found that elementary aged students in the area tend to need the summer support; many local schools do not have librarians.
“Trying to develop programs for early childhood participants is crucial,” Belardo-Cox says. “[Bujak] is introducing children to reading. They need to be excited about reading.”
Building a program
Bujak didn’t start off as a children’s librarian. She developed the specialty out of a need within the library system and now she is dedicated to expanding story time and other children’s programs at Wadsworth. She currently works with local daycares two days per week, and leaves one for children and their parents, plus she visits nearby John F McCloskey Elementary School every other week to work with the students in the comprehensive-reading program.
For last Thursday’s story time, which was about an hour, Bujak read three books about African tales. As she read “Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock” the children would occasionally interject with their own thoughts about the story.
“That’s mean,” said Timothy Palmer, 4, of the main character’s actions. “He’s a yam stealer. He’s a yam stealer and a banana stealer.”
Timothy and his brother, Joseph, 8, have been going to story time since it started. Their mother, Regina Palmer learned about the activity through an online home school website for people living in the Northwest. Regina wanted to check it out because it was school-aged children, and most other reading programs she has found are for toddlers.
Her children look forward to the group so much that they had to remind their mother it was taking place that day.
After Bujak read the books, the group moved to the table, where they were given a drawing of a giraffe that could be cut out and assembled in 3D. Here, Sanayah Wardlaw, 5, grabs yellow and pink to decorate her giraffe.
Wardlaw is no stranger to story time as her mother, Shirley Branch, takes her to other libraries regularly. But it was her first time at Wadsworth. Branch heard positive things about the crafts projects through a friend. She thought the story time’s set up was welcoming, and she appreciated Bujak’s enthusiasm.
“She sang a song between the books to get their silly out,” Branch says.
Bujak’s story time for toddlers is a little different. There are more songs and activities that get the children moving, but both groups always follow a theme. In the past, Bujak has done Earth Day and tricksters. She starts by picking a book and trying to find others that are similar.
For her next session, May 19, she is thinking of working with “Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku.” Now she has to decide what route she will take: cats or poetry.
The Wadsworth Branch Library is located at 1500 East Wadsworth Ave. Toddler story times are Wednesdays at 10:30 a.m. and school-aged story times are Thursdays at 1 p.m. Call 215-685-9293 for information.