Library People

Books for Wider Horizons - Taking Storytimes to Young Children for Twenty Years

Books for Wider HorizonsThis year is our 20th anniversary of taking storytimes to young children in Oakland preschools, including Head Starts and CDCs, through the efforts of our trained volunteer storyreaders. We will be celebrating all year with posts on the history and future of Books for Wider Horizons.

Picture of Gay DuceyFirst up is an interview with Gay Ducey. Gay is a nationally-known storyteller and has been training our volunteers since the beginning. Her commitment to this program is legendary within the library, and she is a beloved mentor to all our volunteers.

We interviewed Gay on Saturday, October 11.

How and why did Books for Wider Horizons start?

As a group, OPL’s children’s librarians were not happy seeing only the children whose parents brought them to the library. We knew there were children who were not being exposed to the gifts the library can offer and wanted to reach them but knew we didn’t have the time to do it well, or even at all. It began when the Children’s Services Supervising Librarian at the time, Julie Odofin, asked me to put together a proposal and curriculum. The rest is history.   

What is the most important quality of a successful storyreader?

Two come to mind: commitment, a real steadfast commitment to the children; and the ability to share the love and joy of literature and language to children, so that the children carry it with them as they grow older and have choices.

Do you have a most vivid memory of the program?

There are so many… Our first training class started with six people. By the end of the three weeks, two had dropped out. So, on graduation day – a wet, cold, hailing, windy kind of day – there were just four brave souls who attended. We heard the door open and shut, thought it was just the wind, and continued with what we were doing. But it wasn’t the wind. At the door were Martín Gomez, the library director, and Ruth Metz, the assistant director. These two administrators had braved the weather on their own time to honor the four volunteers who were graduating. It was nice for me and wonderful for the volunteers.

The second came from trainings we gave to Head Start directors, staff, parents, and the public. These trainings had been requested by Head Start and organized by one of our earlier coordinators, Zarita Dotson. I'll never forget the comment of one of the mothers. She said, “If this had been available to me when I was little, I would have liked reading, been able to read better, and shared it with my children. It wasn’t, and I didn’t. My children were on their own once they could read just a little bit.”

What is the most important message you have for new volunteers?

Again, there are two. The first is to tell them they are dedicating their time to the children of Oakland, who deserve the very best. The second is that they are sufficient as they are. We provide a tool box; the volunteers can choose which tools they use.

Is there something you’d like to share that I haven’t asked? Gay Ducey with BWH bag

Yes. When our volunteers begin training, they are eager, well intentioned and nervous. The little secret we tell them on the first day is that they are going to be rock stars. They will find that this storyreading experience ranks very high on their list of fun things they have done in their lives. 

Thank you Gay. And thank you for your years of service to the children of Oakland, who deserve the very best.


Our fall training series is already underway, but if you might be interested in being a Books for Wider Horizons storyreader, please call (510) 238-7453 or e-mail Rochelle Venuto at for more information about our next series.  A 7-night training session (offered each fall) is required for this program. Upon completion of the training, each participant agrees to prepare and present a weekly storytime at a partnering preschool site for at least 6 months.

Oakland Reads 2020 - A New Chance for Oakland Youth

Did you know that only 42% of Oakland children read at a third grade level by third grade?  Did you know that only 33% of Oakland's socio-economically disadvantaged children read at grade level by the end of third grade? Did you know, further, that the ability to read at grade level by the end of third grade is a prime indicator of a child's likelihood of graduating from high school? 

Oakland Reads 2020 is an initiative of the Oakland Literacy Coalition, a group of service providers who believe that Oakland can double the number of third graders reading at grade level by 2020. 

There are four pillars that support this initiative:

  1. School Readiness - Children are set up for success when they enter school prepared to learn
  2. School Attendance - Good school attendance maximizes learning and helps students stay on track
  3. Summer Reading - Engaging educational opportunities over the break prevent summer slide
  4. Parent Engagement - Parents are their children's first teachers and most important advocates

Do you want to learn how you can get involved, or are you interested in donating to Oakland Reads 2020? Contact them.  

This initiative is a city-wide effort. The steering committee members are Brian Rogers (CEO, Rogers Family Foundation), Janis Burger (CEO, First 5 Alameda County), Gerry Garzón (Library Director, Oakland Public Library), Jen Rainin (President, Kenneth Rainin Foundation), Kathy Schulz (Dean and Professor of Education, Mills College of Education), Janet Y. Spears (COO, East Bay Community Foundation), Junious Williams (CEO, Urban Strategies Council), and Rich Winfield (Executive Director, Bananas).




People of Color Underrepresented in Children's Books

This post was originally going to be about "beauty" in children's books.  Inspired by Lupita Nyong'o's speech at the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, I wanted to talk about picture books that tell children they are beautiful in real ways, like My People, Me Frida, Flora and the Flamingo or Jingle Dancer

But then I was invited to appear, Monday morning, on KQED's Forum program for a panel discussion on why people of color are underpresented in children's books.    According to statistics collected by the Cooperative Children's Book Center at UW Madison, a disproportinately small number of children's books each year are by, or about, people of color.  Why is this the case? And why hasn't it changed?  I started my studies in this profession exactly 20 years ago, and we were having this exact same conversation....and it wasn't new then either.  

I invite you to listen to the podcast of the Forum program.  It felt like the conversation had just gotten started there.  We started asking  how can we leverage the market to create a demand--in dollars--that publishing houses and big box bookstores will respond to.  One of my colleagues alerted me to The Birthday Party Pledge:  committing to give multicultural books to the children in her life for one year.  She started recently, headed to a 4-year-old birthday party, and stopped at a local independent bookstore in Oakland to select a book.  She could not find one book in stock that was age appropriate and featured any children of color.  Not one.  She settled on Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse; a beautiful book that highlights another symptom of the problem, as Pinkeny is only the second African-American ever to win a Caldecott Medal.  (Others have been awarded a Caldecott Honor, but still too few.  Listen to the Forum program for my thoughts on that.)

If we'd had a few more minutes on the program, I would have wanted to say: not every individual book has to do everything for everyone.  But the body of work that we create, produce, buy, and read for our children--the best of children's books--must be better at addressing all of its readership.  Kids read and respond to things they identify with, and things that are different, in books--helping them craft their identity by reflecting it, and expanding it.  Kids also start to build prejudices from what they see in the world, and in books, from a very early age. What kinds of experiences are we denying children of all kinds by not showing them experiences of all kinds in their literature?  

This is everyone's responsibility.  What can you do?  Think about it when you're choosing books for kids (your kids, your classroom, a present, donations to the Oakland Mayor's Toy Drive, whatever!) and ask for it.  That's a start. 

Which book do you want to share?

Books for Wider Horizons - Taking Storytimes to Young Children

BWH VolunteersEvery week about 60 dedicated volunteers read to children in 40 preschools in Oakland. They have been trained, tested, and sent forth to share their joy in language and literature with some of Oakland's youngest children.

These wonderful folks have committed themselves to a pretty rigorous schedule. They spend more than 20 hours over a period of two weeks in training. Then, once they are ready, we ask them to read 30 minutes a week at a Head Start or other preschool. That may not sound like a lot of time, however most volunteers spend hours choosing books, songs and fingerplays the children will enjoy. 

One of our volunteers has been with the program for almost twenty years, as long as Books for Wider Horizons has been in existence. Others take on multiple time slots, because they love it so much. Several manage to fit their storytime reading into their lunch break. Others are retired but have multiple volunteer positions. 

All are dedicated, love literature, and enjoy young children. What a fabulous group of people to work with! 

If you are interested in joining this committed and caring group of people, call us at (510) 238-7453. We conduct training sessions once a year, during the fall. If you can't wait to volunteer, there are other volunteer opportunities we can suggest. 

ALA Youth Media Awards Announced!

The new winners of the Caldecott, Newbery, Coretta Scott King and other awards were announced early Monday morning at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in Philapdelphia.

The winner of the Newbery Award is Flora & Ulysses, a short, graphically illustrated chapter book by Kate DiCamillo, who is also the recently appointed National Ambassador of Young People's Literature. 

The Newbery Honor winners are Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes, One Came Home by Amy Timberlake, and Paperboy by Vince Vawter.

The winner of the Caldecott Medal is Locomotive by Brian Floca.  Caldecott Honors were awarded to Journey, written and illustrated by Aaron Becker; Flora and the Flamingo, written and illustrated by Molly Idle; and Mr. Wuffles!, written and illustrated by David Wiesner.  Miriam Medow, children's librarian at Oakland's Lakeview Branch, served on this year's Caldecott Award Committee!

The Coretta Scott King author award went to Rita Williams-Garcia for P.S., Be Eleven, the sequel to her award winning One Crazy Summer, which was set in Oakland.  The Coretta Scott King illustrator award went to Knock Knock: My Dad's Dream for Me, illustrated by Bryan Collier.  Oakland Public Library's Supervising Librarian for Teen Services, Lana Adlawan, served on this year's Coretta Scott King Award Jury!

The Pura Belpre Illustrator Award went to Yuyi Morales for Nino Wrestles the World; and the Belpre Author award went to Meg Medina for Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass!, a book for teens.

We hope you explore all of the award winners, at your library!

Awards Excitement!

No, this isn't about who is custom-designing my dress for Oscar's night.  This is about the Newbery, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, and other Youth Media Awards, soon to be unveiled, on Monday January 27th!

You met Miriam Medow, OPL librarian and member of this year's Caldecott committee, a couple of weeks ago.  Miriam, and members of many award committees, are now in their final weeks of re-reading their confidential short-lists, nominated from among hundreds of children's books published this year.   Around the middle of next week, they will pack their bags with warm clothes, books and notes, and head to Philadelphia PA for the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. They will meet in closed sessions with their committees for 2 full days, often long into the night, discussing, voting, and coming to a consensus on which books will receive the gold and silver medals for their award.   Then, very early on Monday morning, those awards will be announced to the world at a press conference, which you can watch live at 8am ET.  Yep: that's 5am here.    

I will be there in Philadelphia and sitting in the press conference that morning, and can't wait to see books are honored. Your librarians will jump into action that morning to order more copies of anything we lack, so don't hesitate to request the books! Among the awards announced that morning will be: 

The Newbery Award for the most distinguished contribution to literature for children of any age.  It's an award for writing, but it doesn't have to be for a novel for older children, even if it usually is.   Poetry, nonfiction, easy readers and picture books have all been honored by the Newbery Award. The award was established in 1922.  (By the way...has your family submitted an entry yet to the 90-Second Newbery film festival?  The deadline is Monday January 20th!)

The Caldecott Award for the most distinguished picture book for children of any age. It's an award for art, but the books honored have ranged from books for toddlers to books for independent readers. The award was established in 1937. 

The Coretta Scott King Awards honor authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that "demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. It was established in 1969.

The Pura Belpré Awards honor writers and illustrators whose work "best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth."  It was established in 1996.

The Robert F. Sibert Award honors the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book for children.  It was first awarded in 2001.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award is given to the author and illustrator of the most distiguished beginning reader book.  It was first awarded in 2006, and is named for Dr. Seuss!

And this only scratches the surface! Will you join us in celebrating great children's and young adult books on January 27th?  

In the photo: me, Nina Lindsay, to the left of the top hat; and OPL librarian Sharon McKellar to the right of the top hat, at last year's award celebration. 

Who chooses the Caldecott Medal?

Have you ever wondered how those shiny gold and silver embossed medals wind up on the year's most distinguished picture books?  

The Caldecott Medal has been awarded each year by ALSC, a division of the American Library Association, since 1938.  A different committee of ALSC members is elected and appointed every year to decide which picture book, by an American illustrator, will win the award.  You can watch the live webcast of the award announcments at 5 a.m. on Monday January 27th, and check in with us throughout that week for reports on the awards. 

This year, Oakland Public Library is very proud that Miriam Medow, children's librarian at the Lakeview Branch, is part of the committee.  It is a huge honor--and also a huge amount of work that Miriam commits to on mostly her own time.  I asked her to share with you all a little about what this year has been like so far.

"I've been reviewing books as part of my professional work for several years.  A couple years back, I attended a full-day workshop at ALA's Midwinter conference where we practiced book discussion and learned what it takes to serve on a media award committee. I was super excited by the idea of doing this work, and filled out a volunteer interest form for ALSC to serve on an award committee.

"Six months passed by silently, then one morning last August I received an email from ALSC telling me that I had been appointed to the Caldecott committee! I burst into tears at my computer and immediately called my parents. They're proud :) I then set out to prepare for a year of hard work.

"The more I know about what goes into making children's books, I figure, the better I'll be at evaluating them. Online videos showing artists working in their studios, articles about illustration technique, and interviews with picture book creators -- most notably Maurice Sendak -- have been critical to my (self) education. I've also looked at previous Caldecott winners to see what committees in the past have deemed to be the most distinguished contributions to children's book illustration. Sometimes I disagree with their choices.

"Publishers have been sending me envelopes and boxes of books to consider for the award throughout the year.  In March, they trickled in. By May, it felt like a full-on deluge. I'll admit that, at this point, I groan when I see the UPS delivery truck pull up! I've reviewed over 500 books so far this year, and expect to spend time with another 50 before this Caldecott year is done.

"I've been visiting 2nd and 3rd grade classes at a couple Oakland schools to read books with students, and have learned SO MUCH from those kids about what works and what doesn't work in picture books. They've been amazing audiences, so opinionated!  Over the next month, I'm having special reading times with my 5-year-old book-loving niece to discover what I can about these books in one-on-one sessions. Reading these books with kids has definitely been the best part so far!

"The most difficult and time-consuming part has been pulling together my critical analyses of the books in preparation for the committee's marathon meetings that will be happening January 24th- 26th at ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. Everyone on the committee is doing the same, so when we're all in the same room next month we'll be ready for some intense discussions. We have a little over two days to hash it all out and vote on winners. A year of work, culminating in just over two days of decision-making. Yikes!

"Committee members hail from all corners of the country. We range in age from 30-something to 70ish, and mostly have experience in public and school library youth services positions. Some have been on award committees before, but more are newbies like me. From our practice discussions, I know that, though we share a passion for children's literature, we bring a great variety of opinions to the table! 

"Our decision will be made by Sunday, 1/26, and we're not to spill the beans until after ALA's big awards announcements that take place on Monday the 27th. It's as exciting as the Grammys for librarians :)"

If you'd like to learn more about the Caldecott Medal, try exploring the Caldecott Medal website, including resources developed for the recent 75th Anniversary.  

If you'd like to explore some of the eligible books for this year's award, check out the blog Calling Caldecott at the Horn Book. 

Thank You

Cover of Giving ThanksTwo of my favorite books in the Oakland Public Library children's collection are Thank You by Felicia Walker and Giving Thanks: a Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp. The gratitude expressed is with different words and for different things, but it is real and heartfelt. It occurs to me that this is a good time of the year for giving thanks.

So, here goes. Thank you to the tens of thousands of children and parents who come through our doors to participate in storytimes, attend one of our programs, play our Summer Reading Game, use the computers, and find books for research or to simply enjoy. Your enthusiasm and appreciation bring joy every day. 

Cover of Thank You by Felicia Walker

Thank you to all the teachers who bring in classes.  Sometimes you walk far but you bring them. Your commitment to your students and their life-long learning is wonderful, full of wonder.

Thank you to the writers of all the fabulous books we have here. I am overwhelmed with the abundance. 

Thank you to the incredible staff of Oakland Public Library. I have worked at places with more resources, but I've never worked with a more committed, imaginative, and creative group of people. I am honored to work here.

And thank you to the residents of Oakland. Through these past years, your support has kept all our libraries open. It has meant that we can offer new books, electronic resources, Wi-Fi, museum passes, streaming music, summer lunches at eleven branches, and work with other departments of the city and local agencies to enrich the lives of the children of Oakland. 

There is lots to be thankful for. 


The Right Book, the Right Reader: Science Guy

A friend and I have been doing a 30 Day Drawing Challenge; every day we draw from a prompt, then post the pictures to each others' Facebook walls. Results are somewhere between poignant and hilarious. In that spirit, I decided to draw today's story about a reluctant reader who finds a kind of book he'd never dreamed existed...... Enjoy!