Events put focus on childhood literacy

Eufemia Didonato

WYOMING — Libraries across the Wyoming Valley celebrated National Read Across America Day on Tuesday, providing a variety of literary offerings for children, in spite of the challenges of the pandemic.

In Wyoming, library director John Roberts took to the internet, sporting a red and white striped Dr. Seuss hat and large bow tie.

The annual event is typically held on or around the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel — as Dr. Seuss was formally known — who was born on March 2, 1904.

Roberts said after having skipped the special day last years because of the impending pandemic, this year he knew he wanted to do something special. With the library being closed, Roberts put together a Facebook based event, that brought readers online from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The book reading was recorded, so young readers can continue to enjoy them in the future.

Roberts said he had collaborated with Board President Colleen Garrison to find readers to provide virtual readings throughout the day, with readers including Wyoming borough council member Joseph Scaltz and Ann McDonough, a local dentist.

Celebratory programming

In Wilkes-Barre, the Osterhout Library is open to the public by appointment and requires that patrons visiting wear masks. For those uncomfortable with in-person visiting, the library offers curbside pickup and posts story times to YouTube.

“The pandemic has changed how we serve the public but it has not changed our fundamental mission of providing resources for reading and learning. Our focus on creating reading programs that inspire children to love reading has largely gone virtual thanks to our talented Youth Services Librarians,” Executive Director Rick Miller, said. “No one has done more to show children the fun of reading than Dr. Seuss and we are proud to celebrate that through our programming.”

Pittston Memorial Library has maintained a robust online presence, anchored in its Facebook page. Children’s librarian Kristen Boettger will be providing younger patrons with Read Across America activity kits that will be available all week in celebration of Read Across America Week. The kits contain a “Name that Dr. Seuss Book,” “Cat in the Hat Hidden Picture” craft and special surprise.

Boettger will also be hosting a new virtual program entitled Starry Story Night at 6 p.m. on March 4 for children in elementary school — with the first author focus being Dr. Seuss. Patrons can register for those and other story times through the library’s website and Facebook page events.

Surviving COVID

Roberts said the library has continued to serve patrons in spite of repeated closures and necessary restrictions.

The library has focused on patrons of all ages, Roberts added, from pre-schoolers who are learning to read to retired folks who prefer books and library materials they can physically hold in their hands.

Library staff, he said, are available to make suggestions about books for curbside pickup. For example, if you like mysteries or fantasy books, they can put together a three-or-four book “bundle” of that genre for pickup.

Also available through the Luzerne County library system, is an app called CloudLibrary, which offers e-books and audiobooks in a variety of genres and for patrons of all ages. Luzerne County libraries have maintained a strong online presence and are consistently making reading materials available, with a mix of in-person and virtual resources available.

Roberts emphasized that people have kept reading throughout the pandemic, with some even reading more because they have extra time. Some youth-themed books, he said, also help youngsters understand pandemic related realities, such as social distancing and mask wearing. It’s also a great time to read outside your comfort zone.

“I’m always encouraging patrons to try new types of books,” he said.

United Way program

Also on Tuesday, nearly 4,000 Wilkes-Barre Area elementary school students were treated to a virtual volunteer reading event led by 14 guest readers and coordinated by United Way of Wyoming Valley.

The first-of-its-kind event titled “United to Read” was held in conjunction with the national event.

More than 150 classrooms participated in the event enjoying virtual readings from local celebrity volunteers from across the area including United Way of Wyoming Valley’s President and CEO, Bill Jones, and the Times Leader’s Patrick Kernan, who read Seuss’ “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”

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