Reading Comes to Life

If you should visit the library at Oklahoma Christian School, don't be surprised if you are greeted by a big blue pigeon, a pirate or even a dinosaur. There's really no reason to be alarmed; most likely, it's just Janet Bass, the school's librarian doing what she does best–making books come to life for young readers.

Bass's creativity simply knows no bounds when it comes to inspiring children to read, ages kindergarten through fourth grade. She dresses up in book character costumes, hosts reading parties and creates unique events to tweak children's imagination and deepen their interest in books and reading.

"I love to dress up and become the characters in the children's favorite books," said Bass. "I've played a detective, princess, paleontologist, pirate and cowgirl. I even do the different voices to add to the fun.

"With all the silliness, the library classes are real learning experiences," said Bass, who was a second grade teacher before becoming the OCS librarian seven years ago. "The older children learn how to use the online catalog and become independent library users. They also learn the Dewey decimal system and how best to utilize the computer in their search for the right book. Younger students enjoy story time, becoming familiar with different authors. Most of all, they discover the library is a fun place to investigate."

Bass says she has no problem getting support for her cutting edge ideas from other adults. School administrators, other teachers, employees from the kitchen and maintenance departments, parents and grandparents all read to the children in the library. She also invites published children's authors to the library on a regular basis. Field trips take off to exciting places, visiting authors and specialized libraries, such as the Oklahoma City Zoo's.

Many of the activities Bass plans involve food to communicate that "Reading is delicious." She even brought some bistro tables and chairs into the library and created the Library Café. She playfully dons a chef's hat, speaks with a French accent and serves "cuisine" to make the children's visit to the library special.

Classroom teachers have caught the spirit with their own motivating activities. Kindergartners earned a pajama party for reading 1,000 minutes. Using the library, first graders research famous Americans and even dressed up and "became" their subject to present the report. The second grade teachers planned a Polar Bear Pancake Breakfast for reading aloud, Mr. Popper's Penguins. Third graders enjoyed an entire festival of chocolate in honor of reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

OCS's fourth grade class recently read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Teachers borrowed a storage closet in the school's hallway to give students a chance to "step into the story." Every day, children found something story-related in the closet. One day, they even discovered their favorite librarian waiting inside, dressed as the White Witch.

"I love being part of all the fun and excitement," said Bass. "Becoming these characters brings out my flair for the dramatic. One of children's favorites is Dr. Booklove, complete with lab coat and stethoscope, who teaches them how to respect and care for their books. Something just comes to life and jumps right out of me. I find costumes and decorations on the internet, at thrift shops or parents will donate many of the items. I'll pretty much do whatever it takes to keep the students interested in reading."

Sometimes, Bass turns reading into a way for children to discover the joy of giving to others. Once, the students raised more than $5,000 for an overseas mission by finding sponsors to donate a penny a page for every book they read. They were rewarded with rides in a hot air balloon, which Bass arranged to have tethered in the school's football field. The young readers also raised $20,000 during Laura's Readathon. The money helped pay medical expenses for Laura Bell, a fellow student whose favorite past time is reading.

"When I became Oklahoma Christian School's librarian, I decided to assist the school in making the library central to the children's lives," said Bass. "When the students see a grown-up willing to make learning special, it tells the children that reading is important and that they are special, as well. It teaches them to love the library and inspires them to become lifelong learners. Just seeing teachers and other adults reading sets a wonderful example. There's nothing wrong with children watching the movie versions of stories, but when it comes to fueling young imaginations, there's no substitute for a book."

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