Libraries rise to the reading challenge

The children are gathered around their storyteller.

Nearby, the children’s parents stare in astonishment. Other than the occasional kick, scream or cry for Mommy, this is probably the most well behaved the children have been.

The storyteller, children’s TV personality Patty Sullivan, continues reading the Robert Munsch story about a child who discovers a baby. “And what did the baby say then?” she asks.

“MURMEL MURMEL MURMEL!” the sea of children exclaims. Their reply is punctuated with smiles and giggles.

Repetitive? It’s supposed to be. Repetition is just one of the many ways Sullivan gets children,  who are not yet able to read, excited about reading.

And while sparking a child’s interest in storytelling is easy for Sullivan, she and staff at the Toronto Public Library are on the same page about whose responsibility it is to keep kids reading.

Three Toronto library branches are hosting “Keep Kids Reading” this month to encourage parents to get their children hooked on phonics by reading to them at an early age.

The performance, featuring Sullivan, targets children under six and includes group reading, songs and games. The event is part of Keep Toronto Reading month and recently took place at Albert Campbell library in Scarborough,on April 11.

Sullivan, host of Kids’ CBC, said it’s up to the parents to make reading exciting for children who are too young to read.

“If they start young and if parents can foster that love of reading, it will stay with them their whole life,” Sullivan said. “It’s setting (the) example that reading is fun.”

That’s why parent Lisa Van Ness brought her five-year-old daughter Madison to the event.

“The parents have to put an effort in; they have to sit down and read with them, take them to the library, encourage them,” Van Ness said. “It’s the parent’s responsibility to keep them interested.”

Lillian Salmon, communications officer for the Toronto Public Library, recognized, however, that there are many reasons why some parents cannot meet that perceived responsibility.

“Maybe they weren’t brought up that way and reading was never emphasized in their background,” Salmon said. “Or maybe they’re too busy.”

To help inspire those busy parents, the Toronto Public Library has started programs, such as the Ready for Reading and Kindergarten Outreach programs, to get kids under six fond of reading.

“The library is not about teaching reading,” she said. “But we are about getting kids ready for reading, and exposing them to the fun of it.”

Nina Nguyen, the children’s librarian at Albert Campbell library, stressed the importance of promoting literacy to parents so that their offspring associate reading with fun early on.

“We want to tell parents, ‘See how the kids respond to the stories? They get excited, they have fun.’ Patty isn’t the only person who can do that; they can do it home too,” Nguyen said.

She said parents can incorporate games and songs to make the concept of reading exciting to kids.  Getting the process started isn’t the tough part, Patty Sullivan said.

“The challenge is keeping that interest going,” she said.

The city will be holding literacy themed events all month and parents can catch Patty Sullivan again at the York Woods branch library on April 18 at 2 p.m.

Filed by Omar Mosleh