Libraries are for learning

New early literacy center aims to get kids in library habit

Twice a week, Shannon Mason Wolfe takes her kids, Olivia, 3, and Benjamin, 3 months, to the Highland Park Public Library. She’ll be going more often after June 11, when a new early literacy activity center opens, she says.

That’s exactly the reaction the librarians hoped for when they conceived of the new early learning center—a place that would attract more families and turn kids into lifelong library lovers.

Like many of the nation’s 16,541 libraries, the Highland Park library is transforming itself into a multipurpose community center that offers far more than just multiple copies of Curious George.

"A library is not just a room of books with somebody there to make recommendations," says Ellen Fader, president of the American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children. "You want children to come in and enjoy themselves, starting from the very earliest age."

Children already are among the Highland Park library’s biggest customers—35 percent of the materials checked out are for kids. But the librarians wanted to make it even more kid friendly.

They started by replacing the 15-year-old carpet and painting the white walls in warm earth tones. With the help of a $57,000 grant from the local Rotary Club, the library will add murals of the Little Red Hen, Goldilocks and other favorite storybook characters. When the center opens, kids will get to make storybook-related art projects, such as weaving seahorses out of paper to go along with a picture book called Secret Seahorse. And there will be a stage for puppet shows built into a life-size "fantasy" tree.

Kids can also learn to sort—by putting a carrot in the rabbit bin or an acorn in the squirrel bin—and to rhyme—by placing a chair on an activity card that pictures a bear. To encourage writing, kids can "mail" letters to the librarians using a small plastic mailbox. They can use felt boards with Velcro objects to work out stories such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

With all the new activities, don’t expect a hushed library. "The noise level is going to rise," says Linda Wicher, director of youth services at the library.

The center officially opens June 11 with a day-long celebration, including hula dance lessons for kids, a performance by popular kids’ singer Joel Frankel, and Highland Park artist Beth Shadur painting the murals of the storybook characters on the walls. For more information, see, or call (847) 432-0216.

Karen Springen

Kids Eat Chicago

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