Things are bustling outside the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in East Oakland. On one side, Matilde Hollander, a retired Montessori teacher and book author, is reading her book, My Five Senses, to a group of kids. In front, kids are lining up to get servings of free popcorn and balloon animals made to order by a female clown.
At a folding table, Children’s Librarian Kate Hug helps kids look through an assortment of free children’s books for one to take home as part of the Summer Reading Celebration sponsored by Oakland Reads 2020.
It’s a kids and family affair and there’s no larger or more enthusiastic family here than the three-generation group led by grandfather Wayne Davis and his daughter Christina Davis, a mother of seven—all voracious readers and big fans of the Junie B. Jones series. Ask the Davis kids about books they like and they clamor to offer their opinions.
“My favorite is about the stupid, smelly bus,” says LaDonna, one of the Davis kids. “Junie B. Jones—her Mom signed her up for kindergarten and said she’s going to have to ride the bus to school and Junie said, “I don’t want to ride a stupid, smelly bus to school.’”
“Yeah,” interjects LaDonna’s brother, Christopher, “and she hid in the teacher’s room and stayed there for five days and they had to find her.”
“My favorite book is the Cookie Monster,” says 5-year-old Love. “He likes cookies and then Elmo comes and they try to make cookie treats.”
It’s not easy keeping up with seven children, Wayne says, but reading is one part of the strategy. “They love to read,” he says. “They’re reading almost every day when they get home.”
Christina shakes her head in agreement. “They’re big readers, everybody,” she says. “You can’t do anything if you don’t know how to read. It’s the basis of learning for everything.” She’s a huge reader too, she says, a fan of fiction and non-fiction alike.
The event here, part of a series of events at Oakland schools and libraries organized by Oakland Reads 2020, is all about preventing the “summer slide”—the tendency of kids to stop reading over the summer and to fall back in their math and reading aptitude. The idea is to excite kids and parents alike, and to give parents some tools—and books—so kids keep reading and learning when they’re not in school.
Hug, the children’s librarian, has been working for Oakland Public Library for 13 years and loves her posting at the King branch. She enjoys the change that takes place every weekday afternoon during the school year when school lets out and kids swarm to the branch.
“We’ve got a dedicated group of tweens who hustle over here from Roots Academy to game together, playing Roadblocks or Mindcraft,” she says. Kids coming to the library to use the Internet and play video games may not strike people as supporting literacy but Hug sees it differently, as a part of digital literacy.
“They’re playing these games and using chat windows to have conversations,” she says. “They learn to type well because of that. I take the idea of reading more broadly.”
For Hug, encouraging literacy is about creating environments that welcome kids and encourage learning, and doing that throughout the community.
“It’s not just about having books in hand but also about supporting families to have moments where books can be fun,” she says. “Part of creating an environment of literacy is making sure children aren’t hungry. You wouldn’t think of Alameda Food Bank as a literacy program but it is.”
Today’s event is all about promoting the love of books and giving families more chances to enjoy reading together. he says. “It reminds them there’s a whole other world.”