Most folks in kid lit were big readers, and writers, as soon as they could string together sentences, myself included. But literacy among children isn’t a given. Kids’ book sales have been rising, which is great news, but there are still huge populations of kids who are underserved and overlooked when it comes to literacy. And that isn’t just bad for kid lit sales, it’s bad for society at large. According to the NEA, “…poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement…And deficient readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in volunteerism and voting.” Nobody wants that! So I decided to do something about it, and there’s an easy, fun way that you can too:
We can volunteer to read to kids.
I volunteer at my local Los Angeles library as a STAR Reader–an adult who reads to, with, and is read to by kids of varying ages and skill levels. All it takes is a quick interview with the branch’s children’s librarian, a couple hours of training on a Saturday (snacks provided!), and a background check. Once you pass, you can pick what day(s) and how often you hang out at the library to read with the kiddos, but at least two hours per week is preferred. An added bonus for those of us in kid lit: we get to observe our audience interacting with stories and learn more about what resonates with them.
“Reading with Miss Sarah” is now on my library’s calendar every week. Some days no kids take me up on it and other days I end up with six or seven at a time. Once, a nine-year-old girl and I spent the whole two hours reading 16 picture books! She also gave me some really good gardening advice she learned from her grandfather. And I’ve been able to help kids figure out their reading level and work on their reading skills for summer school programs. The big smiles I get when offering stickers, library pencils, and a coupon for a free book aren’t half bad either!
All in all, it’s really fun. The library staff is kind and happy to have me. I just started a few weeks ago, so I don’t have regulars yet, but parents have asked when I’ll be around next so I hope to have some soon.
And here’s a pro tip for any of my fellow introverts who find it hard, like I do, to approach library patrons: have the librarian announce over the P.A. that you’re available. Then you can just sit in a visible place and let the kids come to you… and they will!
By the way, if you can’t volunteer every week, almost every library branch runs community programs throughout the year. They do arts and crafts, STEM events, Lego building, and even Saturday morning cartoons. Most are led by volunteers who pitched an idea, so if you want to put on a writing or illustrating workshop for kids or do something like “reading comic books for beginners,” they’d probably love that. Call, email, or chat in person with your local kids’ librarian to find out more.
For a few other non-library ideas on volunteering to read, and write(!), with kids, several that don’t require a regular commitment, and some that involve animals, check out this other article I wrote on the subject.
For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.
Sarah Parker-Lee is a Los Angeles Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators board member & the Managing Editor of Kite Tales, a book reviewer for Dwarf+Giant, a content creator for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs, & is available to edit your writerly endeavors. She writes YA alt. history, sci-fi, & is the creator of Dogs & Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Twitterings: @SarahSoNovel, @DogsAndZombies
All images provided by Sarah Parker-Lee.