'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 29 January 2010

The Almost Librian - Talking Early Childhood Education with Valerie Baartz

Who is this person? Valerie Baartz

What does she do? She's a Youth Services Librarian.

Where can you take a gander at her stuff? almostlibrarianat.blogspot.com

What's her story? I currently reside in a Chicago suburb with my husband and two children, Charlie, age 5 and Heidi, age 3. My background is in early childhood education, but I have been a stay-at-home mom for just over five years.

When Charlie was about a year old, I was participating in a story time at our local library and a bell went off. All of a sudden I realized that this is what I want to do when I go back to work. So I began a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science at Dominican University. I graduated in December 2009 and will begin working as a youth services librarian on February 1st.

Why is she so impassioned about literacy and children’s literature? I’m mostly impassioned about early childhood education and I feel that early literacy plays a critical role. I feel that early literacy touches on almost every aspect of a child’s development. And from that, children’s literature is an extension of that passion.

By using a broad range of high quality children’s literature materials with young children, any caregiver can help provide a high quality early literacy environment for their children. The early years set the literacy stage for the future. Young children who develop within a high-quality early literacy environment are more likely to have future success in school and every child deserves the chance for these successes.

What inspired her to create The Almost Librarian blog? I started the blog in January of 2009. At that time, I was about three-quarters the way through my degree and I was antsy to get started in the industry. I knew that I couldn’t go back to work yet, but I wanted to find a way to bring my early childhood education background in combination with my children’s literature studies to the forefront.

Additionally, I had heard comments from other mom-friends that they found searching for children’s books difficult. They indicated that with such a broad range of books available, it’s impossible to know which ones are any good. They also said that libraries are overwhelming. So my purpose was to create a blog that would organize early childhood and early literacy information so that parents, caregivers, and teachers could access quality resources quickly. This information turned into book lists by theme, spotlights on web based resources and a few other articles and ideas.

What does she hope her blog provides readers? My hope is that readers know they can access the resources and information quickly and with confidence that the information provided is of high quality. I have one friend who mentioned that she prints out the book lists to bring along to the library to find her books – you’ve got to love that!

What has been the best thing about creating this blog? I have several ‘best things’ which is cheating. I use the resource myself. It’s become a catalogue of sorts for me to refer back to. I also love the people whom I have met worldwide who share a common interest in literacy and children’s literature. If I had not started the blog, then I wouldn’t know them or all of the resources that they provide. I also am happy to have helped people and I’m excited to have a venue to share my passion for children’s lit.

What is the best thing about being a librarian? I’m just getting started in the field, so I’ll have to check back in for this question in a few months. My hope, though, is that I’m going to find a career in which I am able to go to work every day to make a difference in people’s lives by sharing my advocacy for early childhood education and literacy in general.

There has been a lot of chatter recently that the library as a place will cease to be relevant in society, but I firmly believe that isn’t true. Libraries provide a common meeting place in communities and help to even out the access to information that every person needs. And for children, libraries can be a wonderful place to meet up with friends, find books and media materials that interest them, and develop lasting and positive relationships with the librarians.

Has modern children’s literature changed in the past decade? My experience is that children’s literature has exploded. The industry is huge. There are more books being published than could possibly be read. So in my opinion this comes with the good and the bad.

There are amazing pieces of literature being created and shared – books that will stand the test of time and become tomorrow’s must-read classics. Alternately there are also many titles being published that are not worthy of bookshelf space. So you take the good with the bad and hope that you have the time to sort through and find those amazing books that will make a real impact and difference.

What does she enjoy most about children’s books? I am constantly astounded at how clever many of the books are. I desperately wish that I could be a children’s picture book author, but as I read so many books, I find that I’m not nearly as creative and imaginative as the authors are. So while I am enjoying sharing mountains of these books with my children, I also get to just enjoy them myself.

I also find the moments of sharing books with my children to be priceless. I love observing the connections and observations that they make. I laugh along with them when they all of a sudden find humor in a book and I get to spend quality, one-on-one time with them. Just us and the story. Doesn’t get better than that.

How does she encourage reading in children? When I was a teacher for young children and even now when I’m at home with my own children, I find that just picking up a book and starting to read it out loud draws in the crowd. No formal pronouncement that you are now going to read – you just start. I also believe that setting routine times of the day for reading encourages more reading. And setting an example as a reader by reading the paper, a magazine, or my own book also inspires children to want to be readers themselves.

What books did she read as a child? As a young child, my parents used to read to me every night - AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh poetry, Dr. Suess, Corduroy, and all the books that I brought home from the library.

As an independent reader in elementary school and junior high, I didn’t think of myself as an literature/writing kid; I was a math/science kid. But I never considered how much I read outside of school. I poured through books by Beverly Cleary, EB White, Katherine Paterson, Judy Blume, Ann Martin, Lois Lowry, Cynthia Voight, Paula Danziger and later Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz.

What are some of her favourite kids' books of all time? My Goodreads Account has 217 picture books on my 'Favorites' shelf.
1. The Napping House by Audrey Wood
2. Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett
3. Library Lion my Michelle Knudsen
4. A Good Day by Kevin Henkes
5. Titch by Pat Hutchins

Would she like to write a children’s book herself one day? I would love to. I just need to find my voice, I suppose.

What five words best sum her up? Kind, helpful, an old-soul, always learning, creative.

What advice would she have to help encourage reading and literary saturation for kids? My advice, which is stressed so often, is to read out loud every day to your young children. This is the single most important thing you can do as a parent to help develop literacy skills for your child. And you don’t have to be an amazing reader to do this. Use your library to help you find books that you are comfortable with and that will interest your child and then just keep practicing. You will get better reading aloud.

Not only is this time valuable for literacy development, but reading aloud also gives quiet time dedicated every day for you and your child to slow down and spend time together.

What’s next for Valerie? My new role as a youth services librarian is new and very exciting! And then we’ll see what comes down the pike next!

Don't miss Valerie's wonderful blog, where you can enjoy an insightful journey into the world of books and early education.