Howard library starts them early Exercise: Play Partners exposes toddlers to the idea of reading.


October 04, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

EIGHT MOTHERS and their toddlers -- most about a year old - are the first visitors to Ellicott City's Miller branch of the Howard County public library on a Monday morning.

The mothers and children gather on little mats in a small, carpeted room called the Story Caboose. It's time for Play Partners, a four-week prereading exercise conducted by librarian Susan Morris. Mothers and children play lap games to taped music. They sing and tickle and bounce and say rhymes.

Hard plastic books with simple stories are strewn among the toys. Kids a year old don't read, but they can be read to, and they can learn that pages have to be turned and that English text runs left to right. Much of this "modeling" is learned on a parent's lap.

Twenty-five minutes is about the limit for Play Partners. By that time, the kids have about had it. The crawlers have found the far corners of the Story Caboose, and the bawlers have begun bawling.

Time to check out a toy from the branch's collection of 4,000 educational toys -- and go home.

"It's fun for the baby," says Fran Krell of Ellicott City, who's there with daughter, Rachel, 1. "And it's fun for the parents, too. There's a socializing aspect to it."

Krell says Play Partners is very popular. "The registration opens at 10, and if you don't call by noon, you're out of luck."

Hope Chase, children's department head for Howard libraries, says some programs for toddlers fill up in five minutes.

Morris says she's encountered a few anxious parents who are already worrying about junior's SAT scores, but most of those signing up for Play Partners and other preschool programs at the library are interested in "getting children started the right way."

Evidence about brain development has prompted the library to extend services to the very young, Morris says. "Children under 3 have informational needs, too." Food for thought.

45 percent children

Who said reading among children is dead? Chase, who purchases children's books in Howard, says children account for 45 percent of the library circulation. "I have to do a lot of weighing between popular material and material not so popular and between fiction and nonfiction," she says.

Nonfiction tends to be more popular during the school year, when children check out books for homework. Fiction is more popular in the summer.

There's still a lot of reading for pleasure, as evidenced by several children's book clubs in Howard library branches. (One of them, "Go, Girl!" at the Elkridge branch, is for girls and their mothers.)

The classics are still popular. "Parents tend to forget how difficult some of the classics were when they read them," says Chase, "but, yes, we still circulate 'The Wind in the Willows,' 'Black Beauty' and 'Huckleberry Finn.' "

Favorites revisited

The library also circulates "The Princess and the Potty." That's the book Katie Metz, 3, wants to check out -- again -- when she visits the Miller branch with her mother, Kim, and brother Erik, 9 months.

Kim Metz says she visits the library at least every three weeks, the lending period in Howard libraries, and lets Katie choose her own books. Katie often goes back to "The Princess and the Potty," a hilarious -- and hilariously illustrated -- book about how a princess learns to use the toilet.

"Repetition is what it's all about at Katie's age," her mother says. She raises an important point about little children: They enjoy the same books, the same stories and pictures, the same videos over and over.

What's hot among the young children in Howard County? Books about Wishbone, the talking dog, and another PBS character, Arthur Read. Arthur, the third-grade aardvark, has been around in books for more than two decades, but his wild popularity on television has made Marc Brown's series the most popular kids' books of all time, surpassing R. L. Stine's "Goosebumps" series.

On this Monday, at the ultramodern East Columbia branch, with its rain-forest theme, bright colors and natural lighting, all the Arthur books are checked out.

The older kids are at work on the branch's 14 computers.

Mimi Dasovich, youth services librarian, provides further assurance that kids still read books, from that standby of my youth, Nancy Drew, to a popular series called "Animorphs," about children who "morph" into cockroaches, hawks and other animals and torture "Controllers" such as assistant principals.

"We can't keep the Animorphs on the shelves," says Dasovich, who is preparing for "Teen Read Week" this month. Its theme: "Read My Lips."

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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