When Raul the Third’s newest ¡Vamos! series title was released recently, lower school head Betty Chu Pryor immediately selected it as a book she wanted to donate to the Erskine Library. I, of course, was delighted by her gift and thrilled by its subtitle: Let’s Go Read. In vivid text and illustrations, Raul depicts a subject very close to my heart—a book festival at a local library. Raul’s library is no silent, staid place. Characters use geospatial resources to chart efficient bike routes, read romance novels, and borrow manuals on how to build skatepark ramps. Library patrons create zines to tell their origin stories with a “zine machine” (a rebranded copier) churning out their short, self-published works. It’s a buzzing, diverse place of learning, sharing, and connection.
Raul’s ‘zine scenes’ prompted me to immediately share the book with Brittany Conroy, innovation coach. Teacher Conroy worked this fall with students to create their own zines, and they were preparing to show them at the Watertown Library’s Zine Fest, which was held just this past weekend. Our students proudly shared their work alongside local zine makers who exhibited, sold, and spoke about works on various personal and intellectually challenging topics ranging from funny to factual to political to raw.
At the event, BDS students’ work, their creativity helped bring the library to life. I had the pleasure of being at Zine Fest and seeing and hearing the wonderful reactions of visitors as they found connection and joy in our students’ authentic and varied self-published works. Profe. Restrepo’s sixth and seventh grade classes offered a variety of zines in Spanish. And several sixth graders who had been introduced to and inspired by zine-making last year during Nina Cohen-Perlmutter’s Capstone also offered their stories. It was a rich display of community that celebrated the power of libraries to connect people and ideas, very much like Raul’s new book.
Here at Belmont Day, students from pre-kindergarten to grade eight come to visit the Erskine Library throughout the week for a variety of purposes. Sometimes, it’s about learning different phases of the research process, practicing reading fluency, or efficiently navigating the catalog. They also frequently stop by to find books for independent reading.
For a second grader, that might be the comforting ritual of returning for the next book in a beloved chapter book series. The series follows a consistent pattern and is helping them to become a proficient reader. For a fifth grader, it might be because they heard from a peer about a moment in history they know nothing about. They hope to learn more to start a conversation and ask questions of a trusted adult. For a seventh grader, it might be stopping by to discover if they can get a popular audiobook sooner than the projected monthlong wait. They know that the audiobook is the best way for them to read the book, and access to this new release is crucial for engaging with friends who are reading it and want to discuss it together.
For a kindergartner, it might be to borrow a 500-page chapter book that they are not quite ready to read themselves or even to have read aloud to them. However, the opportunity to check out the book is important just for a child’s aspirations and curiosity as a learner. One day, they will crack the code, and all the ideas and information contained in that massive volume will be theirs to access, know, and use. In the meantime, it’s pretty cool just to be seen carrying this very big book that represents so many possibilities and the promise of becoming a reader.
Visiting the library offers an opportunity to grapple with new and old ideas. In borrowing a book that they’ve read over and over again and that is now below their reading comprehension level, a student might be seeking an opportunity to decompress with a familiar friend after challenging themselves throughout an academically rigorous day. Similarly, in borrowing a book that a parent is not ready to read to their child, a child has the opportunity to learn from their family. Perhaps as part of this learning process, they bring the book back without reading it, reconsidering it in another couple of years. Guided and informed by the Library Bill of Rights, all books in our library are accessible to all readers. No book or section of books is universally appealing or right for all families, which speaks to the diversity of thought of our readers and their families. The power of the library is access.
As Raul the Third writes in his author’s note in ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Read: “The creation of this book was thanks to the generosity and knowledge that a library shares with its patrons no matter where they are from or how much money they have. I will forever be grateful for my experiences there and the amazing journey they inspired me to take.”
As our school’s librarian, I am so grateful that I get to be on that journey with all of our students and their families. Please know that grown-ups can also borrow books from our collection, so please feel welcome to do just that. That especially goes for those days when you’re looking for something that you think will be just right for you to read to your child to complement their more aspirational choices.