Canadian Libraries Spotlight: Bibliothèque Publique de Westmount

This year we’ve hosted a variety of guest posts from library staff around Canada.  For the last post of the year we are delighted to feature the Westmount Public Library, also known as Bibliothèque Publique de Westmount.  Our guest blogger is Children’s Librarian Wendy Wayling who is here to tell us all about a very special Summer Reading Club in Quebec!

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Just when the rest of the library is winding down and looking forward to those lazy, hazy days of summer, children’s departments all across the country are gearing up for their busiest time of year – the season of the summer reading club! And the Westmount Public Library is no exception.

We have been hosting a summer reading club in our library for decades, but in 2011 we joined the TD Summer Reading Club to share ideas with librarians across Canada. Over the past years we have enjoyed successful summer reading clubs using such themes as science, mystery and fantasy, to name a few. This year our theme focused on play.  Choosing a theme as versatile as play left the door open for so many possibilities allowing our staff to brainstorm and come up with some terrific ideas. I had been playing with the idea of transforming our department into a giant Candyland game when another idea hit me: What is the quintessential children’s book about play and imagination?:  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll of course! The choice was no coincidence, however, as the classic children’s book is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. This year’s theme was of particular interest to me as Alice has always been one of my all-time favourite books, as a child, as a teen and even now as an adult.

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Our new library mascot, Findlay Featherton, joins the TD SRC!
TD SRC Launch at Family Day in Westmount Park
TD SRC Launch at Family Day in Westmount Park

What better way to celebrate play and imagination than through the discovery, rediscovery and sharing of Alice and her wonderful adventures down under! Our team got busy preparing reading-incentive games and activities based on play and Alice.

Asking children to keep track of the time they spend reading can be a challenge and understandably so, as not many of us want to set a timer each time we sit down to enjoy a book. Over the years, we have tried to make this aspect more enjoyable for the children by creating some fun reading-incentive games, giving out small weekly prizes throughout the summer and carefully selecting a gift book to give to each child who reached his or her reading goal.

Tech-free day at the library!
Tech-free day at the library!

This summer we developed a game that would teach some basic library skills, while still being fun and at times quite silly, in keeping with the spirit of Alice. Of course, the whole point of the games is to pique the curiosity of the children. For example, once the children had read for one or two hours (depending on their reading level), they were given a clue or a challenge. Here is one example:

In Wonderland, Alice met a Mock turtle – a character named after soup!
Look up books about making soup!

Once the children found a cookbook, they were asked to come up with their own silly soup recipe and share it with the staff. Here is but one creative recipe that a member came up with:

1 teacup of ice
1/2 bowl of unwashed potato skins
1 diget (sic) of pi
5/3 eggs
7 cups of water
9/5 toad’s feet
Boil it in a cauldron for 3 leap years until it is the colour of mud and serve it with dragonfly wings.

Some clues required a bit more research. For example:

Find a biography about our very own Queen Elizabeth II who, by the way, is nothing like the nasty Queen of Hearts!

Hidden in the book was the following question:

How old was Queen Elizabeth when she was crowned Queen? Did you know that she visited Westmount in 1959!

Besides the games and clues, we have also tried to transform the entire department each summer according to the theme. We do this with the amazing talents of the library staff and our local teen volunteers. I have been consistently blown away by the enthusiasm and artistic talents demonstrated by the teens. It is a treat to see how proud they are when they drop by the library to see their artwork on display. Partnering with local teens is a fantastic way to keep this busy age group engaged at the library.

The desk murals painted by a staff member and local teen volunteers.
The desk murals painted by a staff member and local teen volunteers.

Of course, we wanted to highlight other aspects of play: we invited the children to learn how to lawn bowl with the staff and the local lawn bowling club; we hired a local Irish musician to perform in our storytelling garden; we created birdhouses based on the TD SRC illustrations; we offered two Minecraft sessions; we played croquet in our local park dressed as the characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and perhaps the most shocking activity of all this summer was Tech-Free Day when we took away all the computers on one Friday each month over the summer! Jaws dropped, but no tears were shed and parents enjoyed some quality time with their children playing board games and reading together.

Alice playing croquet
Alice playing croquet
Croquet and a Mad Hatter Tea Party in Westmount Park next to the library.
Croquet and a Mad Hatter Tea Party in Westmount Park next to the library.

So why do children’s librarians go through all this work every summer? Because we know that it makes a difference to the children in our communities. We put the extra time and effort into developing a fun summer reading club because we want to foster a love a reading that will last a lifetime. We want the children to feel comfortable in our libraries and to experience that magic moment when a story transports us to a different world, full of possibilities. We also want to reach out to those children who might think that they don’t like reading, but we all know that they just haven’t found the right book yet. The children’s staff love to book talk and recommend great reads to the children and summer is the perfect time to try out new books and share titles!

Our TD SRC closing party - 250 kids and parents participated!
Our TD SRC closing party – 250 kids and parents participated!

Even though it is autumn, I am already thinking about next year’s summer reading club and I am sure that most other children’s librarians are doing the same. Maybe it is time for our adult department to get into the summer spirit and develop a summer reading club designed just for adults!

Happy reading and don’t forget to celebrate Alice’s 150th anniversary this year!

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