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Weeks after the public library in Miami, Oklahoma, shuttered its doors amid the coronavirus pandemic, Judy Beauchamp left a message for its patrons from the staff, written in chalk on the side of the building: “We Miss You!”
Beauchamp said her message, adorned with drawings of the sun, flowers and hearts, was meant as a “big shout-out to the whole community.”
“It’s not just that they’re missing us, we’re missing them,” she said.
Children’s librarian Judy Beauchamp drew this chalk message on the side of her library. Photo courtesy of Miami Public Library
A children’s librarian, Beauchamp is among the many public library workers around the nation who still show up for work during the crisis, often for duties that go far beyond books.
In the face of a deadly public health risk, social distancing measures and the economic downturn, public libraries are figuring out how to best meet their communities’ needs, such as fielding unemployment questions or expanding WiFi connectivity for those who don’t have a reliable connection. Libraries have been called upon to help in more direct ways as well. A public library in Minnesota, for example, deployed many of its staff members to work at a shelter for the homeless that was set up in response to the crisis.
MORE: “Truly the last safe haven”: Libraries serve vulnerable communities during the pandemic
They haven’t forgotten about the books, though. Some, like Beauchamp’s library, have created a curbside book pickup service for readers, are recommending titles through social media, and posting videos of staff reading some books online.
And many are having to rethink how they’re getting reading materials to children — who likely have had their school year cut short — and retool summer reading programs, which help prevent reading loss when children are away from the classroom.
What do librarians hope kids will read while they’re at home during the pandemic? The PBS NewsHour asked for recommendations, and their answers often contain lessons for navigating this crisis.
I highly suggest families read the classics together, aloud if possible. Classics hang around for many reasons, not the least of which is that they are relatable, emotive, linguistically diverse, and deal with morality in a multifaceted manner. Everything from a treasury of Mother Goose nursery rhymes and Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne original) for youngsters, to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy or C. S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” book series for older readers, opens the floor for thematic group discussions and imaginative expansion. “A place to go when we’re all stuck at home.” if you will.
— Jennifer Thornton, director at Carroll County Library in Huntingdon, Tennessee
“The One Day House” by Julia Durango, illustrated by Bianca Diaz
How many times have we looked into a hazy future and promised ourselves that “one day” we will do something to pay our good fortune forward or build something lasting or make a measurable difference in someone’s life? For young Wilson, that “one day” comes when he looks at his friend Gigi’s house, which is in obvious need of repair, and realizes there is something he can do. On that “one day,” a community comes together to rebuild the house — and restore everyone’s faith in themselves and each other. The book also includes information about nonprofits Labor of Love, United Way, and Habitat for Humanity, in case it’ll soon be your “one day.”
— Judy Beauchamp, children’s librarian at Miami Public Library in Miami, Oklahoma
“Hi, Pizza Man!” by Virginia Walter
Young children love this book. Dinosaurs, ducks, snakes and a pizza kitty are just a few of the fun characters. Kids can roar, quack, meow, and hiss to their heart’s content. Then dress up as their favorite “Pizza” character or make their own pizza with beads and [other] craft [materials]. I’ve even done Readers Theater with it. This book is awesome in every way if you want to encourage creative play with your children — and expend some of that pent up energy.
— Monica Edwards, director of William B. Harlan Memorial Library in Tompkinsville, Kentucky
“Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” by Eileen Christelow
This is a classic, sure to get the children’s attention. Rhyming, singing, and counting, oh my!
— Cindy Strode, Bookmobile librarian for William B. Harlan Memorial Library in Tompkinsville, Kentucky
“Chopsticks” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
“Chopsticks” is a delightful story about both the strong bond best friends share and the importance of tackling new experiences and obstacles on your own. This book, along with some chopsticks, can also be paired with several at -home activities: DIY pick-up sticks, chopstick painting and DIY fine motor tongs to work on transferring small materials.
— Tamara Dillard, children’s librarian at Warren County Public Library in Bowling Green, Kentucky
“Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney
Beautifully detailed illustrations transport you to “faraway places” and back to the coast of Maine while helping to tell the story of Alice Rumphius, the Lupine Lady. The story is told from the point of view of Miss Rumphius’s young great-niece, also named Alice, who wishes nothing more than to follow in her aunt’s footsteps. While readers follow the elder Alice’s life journey, they learn that making and achieving life goals is rewarding, but the most important life goal is to do something that makes the world more beautiful.
During times of such trial, uncertainty, and pessimism, thinking of ways to make the world more beautiful is an uplifting distraction and the beginning of an achievable and worthwhile life goal. Families looking to add in a little education can research the real Miss Rumphius, Hilda Edwards, and her contribution to the lush fields of non-native lupine flowers that blanket the state in early summer.
— Jennifer Thornton
“What Is Given from the Heart” by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by April Harrison
Celebrated author Patricia C. McKissack left behind a legacy of poignant children’s books, including her last, “What Is Given from the Heart.” Though James Otis and his Mama are grieving the loss of James’ father, they still want to help when a family from their church loses everything in a fire. James is worried they don’t have anything good enough to give, but Mama shows him that heartfelt generosity is always enough.
— Judy Beauchamp
“When Spring Comes” by Kevin Henkes
I love this book because it depicts the newness of life from animals to plants to earth to children getting back outside to play. This is a great book to explain to children how the Earth changes with seasons and the different aspects we can look for.
Brandi Adams, children’s librarian at William B. Harlan Memorial Library in Tompkinsville, Kentucky
“The Color Monster” by Anna Llenas
This simplistically illustrated book, told from a young girl’s perspective, follows an endearing monster as he, with the help of the young girl, learns to identify, separate, and compartmentalize his feelings. The book opens with the little girl pointing out that the monster has his feelings “all jumbled up,” and follows along as each emotion is identified, likened to a color, and sorted through. At the conclusion, children are tasked to utilize their recently acquired knowledge of emotions with a short color-emotion guessing game.
These unusual times may have children experiencing emotions with which they are unfamiliar, or even harboring thoughts or feelings they do not know how to express. This colorful guided tour will help sort and define these emotions in a child-friendly, easily understood manner.
“A New Kind of Wild” by Zara Gonzalez Hoang
Inspired by her father’s stories of moving from Puerto Rico to New York as a child, author-illustrator Zara González Hoang created a poignant story about the power of friendship and finding magic in new places. In the book, Ren has moved from his grandmother’s forest home to a bustling (and decidedly not green) city, but Ava helps him find the beauty of his new surroundings. If your family is spending more time inside, perhaps “A New Kind of Wild” will help your reader look around their home with fresh eyes.
— Judy Beauchamp
“You Are Your Strong” by Danielle Dufayet
A brilliantly illustrated picture book that defines emotions, teaches self-soothing and constructive emotional outlets, and empowers children to become their own “STRONG.” Included with the tale are notes to parents and caregivers on how to validate a child’s emotions, teach them coping skills, and when to seek support.
“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” by Fred Rogers, illustrated by Luke Flowers
One of the joys of reading with your children is sharing the words and characters that delighted you as a child. With this cheerfully illustrated collection of lyrics from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and The Children’s Corner, you can re-experience the soothing wisdom of Mister Rogers and spark conversations about emotions and kindness, self-awareness and self-esteem, and the many invaluable topics his songs address.
— Judy Beauchamp
“Frankly in Love” by David Yoon
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
This terrifically written book explores the influence that family and culture can have on a young person’s life. Frank Li is a senior in high school, one of the “Apeys” (as in, Advanced Placement), who falls in love with a classmate who is not Korean. He knows perfectly well his parents will not allow him to date this young woman, so he plots with another “Limbo” (his term for other Korean-Americans like him, who are split between cultures) to pretend to go out with each other so that each can be with their chosen partners. Tender, funny, frustrating, and warm, with characters who are complex and real and thoughtful, this book is a highly recommended read.
— Kathy Starks, teacher librarian at Owego Free Academy in Owego, New York
“Monster” by Walter Dean Myers
“Monster” tells the story of a teenaged boy who is on trial and who is isolated. He journals in the form of a screenplay. It’s completely inward thinking — the way a lot of us may have to think now, with a lot of alone time.
–Gina Caneva, library media specialist at East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, Illinois
“The Lunar Chronicles” series by Marissa Meyer
I highly suggest this series because of its endless inclusivity! The Lunar Chronicles features characters of various economic and ethnic backgrounds, varying levels of physical ability, and touches on mental health. It re-tells classic fairy tales with modern characters but keeps the overall message that good will prevail! And it’s written pretty dang well.
— Veronica Rainwater, youth services manager at Warren County Public Library in Bowling Green, Kentucky
”Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All” by Laura Ruby
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with anything written by this author. Her novels are full of magical realism, interesting writing, unpredictable plotlines, and are thoroughly satisfying. In her latest novel (which was a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature), the setting is in an orphanage before, during and after World War II. Frankie’s father has left her and her sister in the orphanage after the death of their mother. Frankie must learn how to survive and protect her sister in the harsh atmosphere, and to function in a world that is changing so rapidly. Reminiscent of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” this piece of historical fiction is a perfect and ultimately uplifting read for our chaotic times.
— Kathy Starks
“Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary” by Gail Jarrow
I recently did a virtual read aloud of the entire book for our high school audience chapter by chapter. There are so many parallels to COVID-19 even though the typhoid outbreak being discussed happened over 100 years ago. It gives insight into asymptomatic cases, tracing infectious disease, and a costly healthcare system that still exists today.
“Fever 1793” by Laurie Halse Anderson
This one tells the tale of a teenager during the 1793 yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia who is struggling to escape the city and the deadly disease. It’s written by my favorite young adult writer, Laurie Halse Anderson.
“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen
“Hatchet” tells the story of a teenaged boy who experiences a plane crash and is left to fend for himself in the wilderness. I remember reading this as a teen, and it’s all about overcoming obstacles, isolation, and fear.
MORE: 10 books besides “To Kill a Mockingbird” that tackle racial injustice
Editor’s note: This story originally misspelled East Leyden High School as “East Lyden.” We regret the error.
Joshua Barajas is a senior editor for the PBS NewsHour's Communities Initiative. He also the senior editor and manager of newsletters.
Courtney Vinopal is a general assignment reporter at the PBS NewsHour.
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