Published 12:00 am Monday, January 7, 2013

SALISBURY — Most of the children who borrow from the Bookmobile can’t read, but that doesn’t stop them from loving their books.
Each weekday, the small bus equipped with bookshelves makes its way to one of 35 child care centers in Rowan County. As part of Rowan Public Library’s Stories To Go program, it serves about 1,100 to 1,200 children ages 3 -5 over a five-week rotation.
On Friday morning, library associates Vicki Rufty and Ashley Bowie brought the Bookmobile to St. John’s Childhood Development Center in Salisbury.
Class by class, the children boarded the bus and sat patiently on its blue cushioned benches. When Rufty and Bowie gave the word, each child turned around and eagerly began searching the shelves for two special books to take home.
They examined the covers and flipped through the pages to find their favorite pictures. When they sat back down, the little boys and girls hugged their books tight while waiting to check them out.
While each class boarded the Bookmobile on Friday, the remaining children listened to stories and sang songs together during special story times.
“The single most important thing to do to create readers is to have a fun, memorable experience with an adult, a child and a book,” Rufty said. “Once I heard that, I thought, ‘I can do that.’”
Willie Roseman and Pam Baugh, who teach 4-year olds at St. John’s, said their classes look forward to every visit from the brightly-colored Bookmobile.
“A lot of them don’t have the opportunity to go to the library on their own with their parents,” Baugh said. “When they go into the Bookmobile, we tell them, ‘Act like you’re in the library. Use inside voices.’”
Roseman said borrowing books also gives children a sense of responsibility.
“It’s the independence of picking out their very own books,” she said. “We have books we bring back to the classroom, as well, but for them to have ‘my book’ that they can take home really means a lot.”
If the books aren’t returned by the next visit, the children can still each pick out one more, but it has to stay in the classroom until the other books are brought back.
Tavella Miller teaches the North Carolina pre-kindergarten program at St. John’s. She said the 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds in her class love the Bookmobile and are learning to love books.
“It really shows children how to take care of books and gives them the opportunity to experience the library,” she said.
But Stories To Go isn’t just for kids.
The Bookmobile stocks resources for teachers, and Miller said she has checked out several books from its collection.
It also carries boxed activity kits that teachers can use in their classrooms. The kits are organized around rotating themes, and the latest one Friday was “colors.”
Rufty and Bowie worked from their own dog-themed kit Friday featuring books, activities and puppy puppets.
Even the classroom story time sessions can benefit adults, Rufty said.
“The general public just sees us reading stories,” she said. “But what we’re doing is modeling literacy enhancement skills to child care providers.”
When Rufty told her group that she would be reading stories about dogs, one child proudly called out, “‘Dog’ starts with ‘D.’”
“Good,” she said. “And what sound does ‘D’ make?”
The room echoed with boys and girls sounding out the letter.
One book, called “Bark, George,” tells the story of a dog with a habit of making animal sounds like “meow” and “quack quack” instead of barking. After Rufty read the story, she asked the children to name the first animal George imitated, followed by all the rest in order.
Another book, “Move Over, Rover,” lists several animals that try to to squeeze into a dog’s increasingly crowded little house.
Bowie read the story and then asked her group to remind her who came to the doghouse. As the children answered with “raccoon” or “snake,” Bowie attached each animal’s picture to a display board propped up on her lap.
These activities help young children develop skills like memorization, recall, sequencing and letter recognition, the library assistants said.
“Teachers can sit back and realize, ‘I can do this with another book,’” Bowie said.
Erica Kosin, youth services coordinator at Rowan Public Library, said the Stories To Go program also encourages parents and children to read together. A component called Books To Grow works with parents of at-risk children to promote reading at home.
And when children take home books from the Bookmobile, they also take brochures for their parents with tips and advice about reading with their kids.
“For children to have the opportunity to have books to read at home with their parents is very important,” Kosin said. “Doing that early on makes them better prepared when they get to kindergarten.”
She said these programs used to be funded through Smart Start Rowan, but the state began to require that its money go toward “evidence-based” models. Instead of spending many thousands of dollars to prove that the programs work, Kosin said, the library decided to fund it on its own.
Rowan Public Library has cut back on staff and lost some other programs, but it saved Stories To Go because it helps so many children, Kosin said.
“The feedback we’ve been getting from some of the parents and teachers has just been incredible,” she said. “It’s showing them how everything around them could be a teaching opportunity.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.