Storytimes of Silicon Valley

Regular readers of this blog are aware of Kelly’s book obsession. When I complained to Peter about having to read her the equivalent of the collected works of Dr. Seuss each and every day, he suggested I find a storytime to take her to, where I can have someone else read to her for a change. That’s backfired in its own way: I’m still reading books to Kelly, but now we go to storytimes 3 or 4 times a week. It is interesting, however, how they vary.

When Neil was Kelly’s age, the only storytime we took him to was the Barnes & Noble one. It hasn’t changed, and it’s just what I expected in an event called storytime. The children seat themselves around the small stage set up for storytimes, and the clerk reads them stories from a selection of books based on a theme (lately, that’s been bunnies and Easter). The old-school storytime feel at our local Barnes & Noble is enhanced by an grandmotherly lady with a Midwestern vibe and a fondness for classic children’s books. As in Neil’s era, the storytimes at Barnes & Noble sometimes feature a visit from a kiddie pop culture icon, like Clifford the Big Red Dog (who’s coming on the 19th.)

The storytimes at the San Jose libraries intersperse nursery rhymes and songs with the books, all the better to keep fidgety toddlers focused. The downside of the San Jose libraries’ storytimes is that they’re always packed. I had to bail on the storytimes at the (now closed) Willow Glen branch because they were crowded like a sold-out concert in a too-small club. The storytimes at the new Cambrian branch are better, but still obviously extremely popular for the kiddie bookworm crowd. They also have the advantage of being able to pull in real-world kiddie culture heroes.

Figherfighter Clayton and another figherfigher from the fire station next to the Cambrian branch were featured guests at the last Cambrian branch storytime.

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Depending on the age, the San Jose library storytimes usually end with an optional activity for the children to do at their leisure. After this fire safety themed storytime, the librarian and the figherfighters gave the children a picture of a firefighter to color in and firetruck stencils.

The Sunnyvale library has 3 weekday storytimes for children of Kelly’s age alone, one of which requires registration but also qualifies as a kindergarten readiness class, as well as weekend storytimes in Russian and Spanish. I can’t afford the gas and time to drive up to all of them, but Kelly has been there on a weekly basis. The preschool song-to-book-reading ratio is even higher: I think only three books actually got read at the last session we chose, but Kelly did get to do imitation, dancing, counting, and color identification.

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It’s also less crowded, because all the storytimes take place in a separate program room next to the children’s section, rather than in a corner of the children’s section. Curiously, a majority of the people there are Indian (as in India Indian.) Does this mean that a high percentage of young families in Sunnyvale are Indian, or is there an Indian community north of Silicon Valley with their own Kelly equivalents roaming the libraries and bookstores on Silicon Valley in search of professional book readers? It doesn’t really make a difference, except that “Wheels on the Bus” takes on a charming Indian British accent when sung out loud at Sunnyvale.

The storytime at our local Borders bookstore has the advantage of being within safe biking distance of home, so I can be a smug bicyclist, and in the afternoon, so we can, for instance, squeeze in a storytime at Sunnyvale on the same day. As it turns out our local Borders storytime gives storytime a whole new definition altogether.

As I discovered, among storytime-loving moms in my area, the young early-20s Borders storyteller, Andrew, has near-rockstar status. And it’s well deserved. He appeared with a short cape pulled over his shoulder, and after a quick intro of the week’s theme (Easter) he uncovered himself and the book of the week “Rechenka.” He read it almost, but not quite, to the end, instead interrupting the book for a crayoning session for all the kids. As they colored, he unpackaged plastic eggs for all the children, which they subsequently decorated with provided Junie B. Jones stickers. When each child was done with their egg, they placed it in a basket, whereupon another Borders associate secretly put a prize into each egg and hid it. Then the children followed Andrew around the children’s section until they’d all found their egg. Kelly was particularly thrilled, because her egg was the last one to be found, and it had puppy stickers in it. Then, and only then, did Andrew finish the book. But storytime still wasn’t over! Another associate brought over milk and cookies from the Borders cafe for all the children to have. We had to leave quickly because I had to bike over to Neil’s school to pick him up. It was the least story, most activity storytime yet, but it was just the sort of thing to grow a new generation of Borders bookstore lovers.

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