I will, on occasion, get ideas for posts on this blog from friends and internet companions. Some of these ideas are good. Some of these ideas are unfortunate. And today’s idea? Top-notch fabulousness. It’s actually probably best suited for children’s librarians but the rest of you can stick around if you want. It is, after all, the brainchild of the daughter of a Newbery winner and her Newbery winning buddy. I kid you not.
For lo, little children, there is a fabulous school in Baltimore called The Park School. And at that school you will find what can only be described as the cream of the children’s librarian crop. This is because The Park School is serviced not only by Twig George, author and daughter of Jean Craighead George, but also by Laura Amy Schlitz, Newbery Award and Honor winner for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! and Splendors and Glooms respectively. And they aren’t merely good writers. They’re honest-to-god GREAT librarians to boot. Laura recently sent me the following idea that Twig concocted and it’s so cool that I begged her to allow me to post the information here. As you’ll see, this is a program that would be easy to conduct in your school library or public library (or children’s bookclub for that matter) simultaneously benefiting both kids and great books in your collection that simply don’t get enough circ. But I’ll allow Laura to describe it herself:
“I wanted to tell you, as a fellow librarian, about a little program we’re doing at Park. It’s called the BROWSE-O-RAMA. It began as the brainchild of Twig George. Both of us (Twig does K-2 and I do 3_5) have noticed that children don’t BROWSE enough; they read series, or they ask for their parents or librarians to hand them books, and while the former is harmless enough, and the latter has it’s charm (why shouldn’t they get some personal attention from the librarian, for crying out loud?) we were worried, because BROWSING is an essential skill. You need to be able to go into a bookstore or a library and open books and read pages and scruff through and come out with the right book. (The Browse-O-Rama motto is ‘Sink your claws into the best book you’ve never read!’ (The song goes to the tune of Oklahoma)).
So we decided to have a month-long Browsing Festival. Because I was doodling cats when we discussed it, Twig suggested that the cat could be the Browse-O-Rama mascot, because the cat is stealthy and curious, persistent and fastidious, good at sniffing and pouncing and curling up and purring. So we ordered cat tattoos, and made a big scroll called the Browse-O-Rama Wall of Fame, where distinguished browsers can sign their names and stamp the scroll with a paw print stamp. We started by having kids read wordless books (to sharpen observation skills and to slow them down) and then we searched the library for good covers and bad covers, for older books (because nobody ever looks inside our older books) for first sentences, alluring inside flaps…well, you can get the general idea. We plan to award particularly good browsers by painting their eyebrows with face paint, so that when they go home their parents will say, ‘What’s that gunk on your face?’ allowing the child the opportunity to say, ‘I BROWSE!’ Get it?
I tried one experimental class where the children leaped from cushion to cushion to Beethoven’s Fifth (Scherzo movement) and when the music stopped, they were to sit down on the nearest cushion and browse through the books on the nearest shelf. I have to tell you, this didn’t work too well. The energy that you use to leap from cushion to cushion is quite different from the energy you use to browse through books and I ought to have considered this. The children who got into pouncing were reluctant to browse, when the time came, and the children who became engrossed in browsing were disconcerted when the music started up and they were supposed to resume pouncing in time to the music. It wasn’t what you’d call a watertight assignment. However, nobody was hurt, and I greatly enjoyed watching them leap from cushion to cushion. It’s good to have a little chaos in the library from time to time.
Anyway, the thing that’s been surprising to Twig and me is, they are BUYING this. Two children told me they had dreams about the Browse-O-Rama! They are foaming at the mouth to have the cat tattoos (awarded to those students who could find the best and worse covers) or to sign the Wall Of Fame. And actually, they are browsing. They are taking out older books. They are finding stuff that they’ve never looked at before.
Our real aim was not to circulate older materials (though we’re for this, believe me) but to develop browsers–and I do think the children are more willing to take books off the shelf, really look at them, and consider something new and unfamiliar. We weren’t at all sure this was going to work, but I think it’s working, honest to Pete, it is.”
Betsy here again. What a great idea. As I may have mentioned before, in the public librarian sphere you could either do a whole program around this, or you could get your already existing groups to partake. For example, I used to run a children’s bookgroup for 9-12 year olds. It was a lot fun but I found that there were certain weeks where the kids would happily discuss the books for half an hour, leaving another 30 minutes for me to kill. My own solution had been to grab an array of new and old children’s books and to put them into brown paper envelopes. Then I’d tell the kids the titles and plots and make them guess if it was an old book or a new book. A lot of the time they’d want to check out the strange older titles, which made the entire exercise a kind of game in booktalking. Now imagine if I’d been able to do the Browse-O-Rama with them! I could have honed their browsing skills and given them some information they could carry with them through life.
Many thanks to Laura for the pictures. The one at the bottom here features Twig showing two different jackets of My Side of the Mountain (with the Wall of Fame in the background) and at the beginning of this post was the Browse-O-Rama sign. As Laura said of it, “I like it that the sign is tethered by a cast iron cauldron on one side (the cauldron is full of poems photocopied on brightly colored card stock) and a whale vertebra on the other.” The bookmarks seen here were designed by a 13 year old Park Student.
Thanks to Twig and Laura for the great idea. Now let’s turn those kiddos into some serious browsers!!