It was Dr. Seuss’ birthday on March 2, a day to be celebrated in schools and libraries everywhere with read-alouds, costumes and fond memories of everyone’s favorite childhood books. And so the Fresno Housing Authority decided to have Dr. Seuss parties at children’s libraries in two of their low-income sites.
As sponsors of the libraries, called Mike’s Books in memory of one of our sons, we were invited to read aloud at one of them and chose the Sequoia Apartments on the west side of Fresno. The library is self-contained in its own small building that has been gutted and refurbished. The largest outside wall is decorated with a mural of — surprise — books. The interior is divided into several spaces with cheerful animal decorations and artwork, throw rugs, colorful walls and, of course, lots of books; some are brand new and others gently used.
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The main space contains a number of tables and chairs and lots of bookshelves. A small cozy spot has been set up for preschoolers with miniature beanbag chairs. In between these two spaces is an alcove with two computers. There is also a kitchenette to store snacks and two updated bathrooms.
When we arrived staff were blowing up balloons, putting up birthday signs and setting up refreshments. The party was scheduled for 3 p.m. and flyers had been distributed throughout the housing site. We were surprised and disappointed that only two children appeared by that time, with a set of parents in tow. We wondered what kind of party we could make this into with such a limited group.
But little by little other children wandered in, some with family members and even some adults without children. Within a half hour we cheered up as we welcomed more than 15 children from ages 2 to 14 and almost an equal number of adults. Everyone was excited ; they filled the area and made a satisfactory hubbub. It really began to feel like a party. Even Officer Hayes, who staffs the housing complex, dropped by and stayed for the fun. It was obvious he was a favorite of the local children, especially when he read excerpts to them from a book his wife had written about animals.
We donned red-and-white-striped “Cat in the Hat” bonnets and walked around as the children colored pictures from Seuss favorites and completed word puzzles and other Seuss-related worksheets with individual packets of crayons. My husband did an over-the-top reading of “Hop on Pop,” with help from the kids, and each visitor received a copy of the book. A Dr. Seuss birthday cake big enough for 100 was somehow devoured by about 30 or so guests with just a little left over.
At one point I was touched to see a family of three children, their father and another adult sitting in chairs across the back of the room, all reading new animal books that had just been donated. The books were probably at a third grade level but the adults read them just as seriously as the children.
Part of the reason for having the libraries at the housing sites is that many low-income families in these complexes may not have books in their home. So the children are told that they can read books in the library, take them home without checking them out, give them to another child, or if they really love them, they can keep them. They were excited at this prospect, and many picked out one or more books to take home. One of the older guests, a teenager, found a shelf of books for young adults. She packed up a carton with more than a dozen of them and announced that she liked to read better than watching television. We were thrilled!
During our visit we learned that more volunteers are needed to staff the two libraries. Each shift is Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from 3 to 5:30 p.m. If you are interested in one or more shifts weekly or monthly and care about kids and can read to them, please contact me.
Francine M. Farber of Fresno is a retired educational administrator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org