Performances, libraries and adventures, oh my!

Reading magic into a child's life

Performances, libraries and adventures, oh my!

ktanner@thetribunenews.comApril 19, 2012 

Some cynics say real books soon will be obsolete, done in by iPads, Kindles, computers and the like.

I disagree, even though, according to NBC News, one in five people have read an e-book in the past year.

I’m no Luddite, but for book-loving me, no machine can match the feel of a real volume in my hands, or my ability to make an instant bookmark by writing, say, “pickles” on a Post-It, then be reminded at a glance why that bookmark’s there.

Apparently, at least some others agree with me. According to the recent poll by USC and the Los Angeles Times, more than half the people interviewed said most or all the books they read are in printed form, and only 10 percent of the respondents said they’d abandoned traditional books altogether.

And to provide access to books for absolutely everybody, it takes libraries, the best libraries possible, ones that are steeped in tradition and technology, where real people do magic every day.

We were reintroduced to that magic during a recent 11-day visit by 13-year-old granddaughter Alyssa.

We packed as many adventures as possible into her “I’ve got G-ma and G-pa to myself,” coming-of-age vacation.

For instance:

• Her first private, one-on-one dance lessons. Talented instructor Shirley Kirkes-Mar taught Aly tap and jazz steps, plus some hip-hop routines that we saw frequently thereafter.

• A performance of “My Generation” at the San Luis Obispo Little Theater, an exuberant, emotional show about the music and happenings of the 1960s. Talented sister and brother Kerry and Marcus DiMaggio, formerly of Cambria, aced two of the lead roles, as did Redzuan Abdul Rahim, Suzy Newman, former Morro Bay mayor Janice Peters and the others. Applause!

• Coast Union High School’s production of “Wizard of Oz.” The performances, sets, costumes … the whole package was wonderful. Yes, yes, we all know the script well enough to recite the lines along with the actors. But Director Kirk Henning again coaxed delightfully fresh portrayals and emotions from his students, and as usual, participants ranged from grammar-school students to grandparents. Applause times two!

• G-pa taught Aly how to cut a gem and put it into a ring, and how to photograph deer and wild turkeys in our meadow, sunsets and waves at the pier. I taught her how to turn the pictures into “postcards” to which she added messages for family.

• For years, I’ve invented “Lyssie Fairy” tales for Aly (who just changed her nickname). This time, she created one for me, all about the link between a garden and love. It was so charming, I had her save it on the computer, then sketch artwork for her “book.”

• We had sushi for lunch, a picnic at the beach and bacon waffles for dinner, with as much laughter as syrup.

• We talked and talked. And talked.

• She played e-games and music on her iTouch, watched YouTube videos of famous dancers and researched self-publishing.

But she didn’t read.

Aly hadn’t enjoyed reading since she was a little girl. “I have to read so much for school, and remember enough about it to pass the tests,” she said. “They’re usually not books I like.”

I tried explaining the differences between assignments and reading for pleasure. Yeah, sure, G-ma.

We were in San Luis Obispo when still-skeptical Aly agreed to go to the library anyway. Rather than blow our chance, we stopped at the SLO branch (or we’d certainly have taken her to our beloved Cambria library).

We took Aly to Kristen Barnhart, our longtime friend and a former Cambria librarian who’s now the children’s-section guru in SLO.

Our teen flipped unenthusiastically through one book after another. However, as we wandered off to find some books for us, Kris persevered, continuing to seek just the right book to intrigue and enchant a 13-year-old reluctant reader.

Abracadabra! When we meandered back to the teen section, Aly was stretched out on a bench, fully engaged in reading! (No, it wasn’t “Hunger Games”).

She spent the next three days glued to her novel. She took it with her everywhere (except into the restaurant — even we drew the line at that!). We knew she was hooked when she mused, “A good book is like Thin Mints, I think. You enjoy it so much, you’re sad when it’s finished.”

Thrilled, we bought her the next two books in the series, and sent others via mail order. It worked. Aly apparently read for all but about a half hour of a five-hour drive home, and reportedly remained enchanted by the stories all through her spring break and beyond.

Books and libraries obsolete? Not even! Just show me a computer that can match how we, Kris and the library changed Alyssa’s life … maybe forever.

Oh, an e-reader can’t do that? It takes the human touch of a caring librarian and her library? Surprise, surprise.

Note: Please join us in donating soon to help complete the deal for the new Cambria library. Give your gift to one of our wonderful Cambria librarians at our way-too-small library, 900 Main St., or mail it to that address. Friends of the Cambria Library and the community already have raised more than $1 million. Their balance due is down to $400,000 by Dec. 31 (or, more immediately, $60,000 to meet two challenge grants by June 30.)

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