As a liaison librarian, I am relatively accustomed to asking complex, sometimes laborious, questions of library patrons.
There was a slight change in the questions I found myself asking last week, however. Instead of asking if one would prefer to see administrative sub-series A or B in the papers of a certain 19th century insurance broker, I found myself asking, “have you ever heard a bear sing a song for a bee?” Instead of inquiring which pages of an 800-page volume on British politics 1902 – 1910 were of interest, I found myself asking, “how would you like to fly on an airplane with pickles for wings?”
The reason for this change of tack was a series of story-time sessions with the wonderful children of the McGill Childcare Centre and the McGill Students’ Society Daycare. Four groups of around 20 pre-school aged kids traipsed down the icy hill and ventured up to the 4th floor of the McLennan Library, where they were enthusiastically greeted by staff in the ROAAr reading room.
The Colgate Room, usually reserved for PhD seminars or wine-and-cheese receptions, was transformed into a space for the children to hear stories selected from the extensive ROAAr children’s literature collection. Organized in coordination with Grants and Special Projects Administrator (and, it turns out, seasoned story-time veteran) Jacquelyn Sundberg, the sessions were a fantastic reminder that our collections have great relevance and special meaning outside of academia.
Each session featured a different reader from the Library team. I was the first reader, choosing Pish Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch, a surreal and beautifully illustrated tale of Bosch’s long-suffering housekeeper, as my selection. Next up, Library Development Officer Steven Spodek was a hit with his reading of I Am a Mouse and other titles, as well as some well-received riffing on perennial favourites such as household pets and road safety.
Third up, Jacquelyn Sundberg managed to prove that book history isn’t confined to the realms of advanced education and had the kids bursting to share differences they could spot in different editions of Rapunzel and the Three Little Pigs. Rounding off the line-up was Head of Rare Books and Special Collections, Christopher Lyons, whose boundless enthusiasm showed us all that there’s always time for having fun and being silly, no matter how high up the job ladder you are. Chris’ wife, Francoise, and her 200+ year old violin, also featured as very special guests. With an awe-inspiring background in early childhood education, Francoise led the enthralled children in song and dance. A Hokey-Pokey duet from Francoise and Jacquelyn brought the sessions to a lively, shake-it-all-about finish.
There is certainly great value in the intellectual pursuit of analysing children’s texts, whether it’s mapping them to Marxist discourse or aligning them with critical theories on gender, but there is also something truly wonderful about bringing these texts back to their original, intended audience.
Not only that, but it’s a way of making good on the ROAAr promise of “creating moments of discovery with extraordinary collections”. Children are such intrepid discoverers, questioning and eking out meaning from the tiniest of detail, that it helps us, the grown-up librarians, remember how very extraordinary the collections in our care really are.
You can see more from the ROAAr children’s literature collection in the Books That Pop! exhibition, currently in its final weeks in the 4th floor lobby of the McLennan Library Building. Contact liaison librarian Elis Ing for more information about children’s literature holdings at ROAAr.