Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Person of the Week

Elaine Alexander: Kids Are Her Game


As children’s librarian at the Deep River Library, Elaine Alexander likes to have all the ingredients on hand to keep kids of any age engaged and entertained.

Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

As children’s librarian at the Deep River Library, Elaine Alexander likes to have all the ingredients on hand to keep kids of any age engaged and entertained. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Maybe you saw Bat Girl at the library, or maybe Mrs. Santa Claus, or maybe a pirate. But the costumed figures all had something in common: They were all Elaine Alexander. The children’s librarian at the Deep River Public Library likes to dress up to give drama to her programs.

“I have four big bins with costumes and hats,” Elaine confesses.

Still, dress-up can have unforeseen consequences. Once Elaine’s son, now a college student but then 16, called her to pick him up at school early because he was not feeling well. She told him she was happy to, but had a warning. Because of a children’s program she had just completed, Elaine was still wearing a cowgirl outfit. He told her he was feeling so sick that he didn’t care.

“Luckily the nurse’s office is located close to the main office, so I was in and out quickly,” she recalls.

Sometimes, she is amazed at the transformation she sees in herself.

“I wouldn’t have believed it if anybody had told me I would be a children’s librarian dressed as a cowgirl. I was very shy and not a public speaker. I guess I saw other people and thought maybe I could,” she says, adding that her husband is very supportive and encouraging. “He always tells me, ‘Of course you can do it.’”

Elaine has some imaginative programs coming up for children at the Deep River Public Library: Big Bubble, a bubble making extravaganza for kids on Saturday, Sept. 14; Shadows Around the World with Nappy’s puppets, exploring world cultures, on Wednesday, Sept. 18; Toddler Puffy Paint on Friday, Sept. 20; Sensory Play for babies six months or older on Thursday, Sept. 26; and a pre-K Scavenger Hunt on Friday, Sept. 27.

If you are a certain age and remember the rules that once regulated children’s library behavior at traditional story hours, today’s version of those events would be an eye-opener.

“We are messy; we make noise; we have movement. It’s not just reading and sitting in a parent’s lap,” Elaine says.

At the upcoming mystery scavenger hunt, three and four year olds, with the help of an adult, follow large fingerprints Elaine has made all around the library’s reading area to find numbered clues.

Bubble making will involve not only a commercial bubble product but also bubble solution that the youngsters make from scratch using, among other ingredients, glycerin, corn starch, and dish soap.

“We’ll see which makes better bubbles; ours or the commercial one,” Elaine says.

And then there is toddler puff painting, an activity that uses shaving cream and food coloring.

“Hopefully, we will be doing that outside,” Elaine says. (The bubble program will also be an outdoor activity.)

Elaine’s second-floor office at the Deep River Library looks like a cross between a recycling center and a rummage sale.

“I save everything,” she says.

There is a box full of cardboard toilet paper rolls. Elaine is going to use them as bubble blowers. She already has used some in a project making bird feeders, smearing the rolls with Crisco and rolling them in seeds and then hanging the finished project outside.

“I think the squirrels must have liked them more than the birds,” she adds.

And then there is a stack of cartons with fenders and car door drawn on them. Each one was a car in which a toddler sat. Then, Elaine showed a short film.

“It was a drive-in movie,” she says.

And she even attached a small bag of popcorn with a clothespin to each car-box. (Remember, a mess is okay.)

Glass jars are for terrariums; the bag of tapioca pearls will be cooked for a six-month old sensory perception session; strings and straws are to make big bubble loops. Elaine squirrels all her materials away for reuse.

“I save everything possible,” she says, noting that it helps her create the most imaginative programs on a limited budget.

As a child in Groton, Elaine loved riding her bike to the neighborhood library, but she didn’t envision becoming a children’s librarian until her own son was growing up. She was nostalgic for the early years of childhood.

“I was missing children; I feel passionately about childhood, and I activated that interest,” she says.

Elaine started out working part-time at a number of libraries, first in Colchester, then Wethersfield and Old Saybrook. She cobbled together a full-time schedule made up of part-time jobs—“Working like crazy,” is how she describes it. She recalls one week when she did eight children’s programs at different libraries.

She has cut back her schedule, working part-time only at Deep River, while she gets a master’s degree in library service online from Texas Woman’s University, a program she chose in part due its reasonable cost.

In addition, she has another financial advantage. Since Southern Connecticut State University lost accreditation, there is no accredited master’s program in library service in Connecticut. As a result, Elaine qualified for in-state tuition for the Texas program.

Elaine spends part of her leisure time reading children’s books, because with a limited budget she wants to make the most appropriate purchases for the Deep River Public Library. She has also written books, one already published is a murder mystery for teenagers and a book for younger children about angler fish scheduled is to be published by Candlewick Press in 2022. Her son got interested in angler fish when he saw the popular feature-length cartoon, Finding Nemo, that was released in 2003. Elaine did some research and the book is the result.

Elaine is committed to making the library experience a memorable one for children.

“Childhood is a great time, a magical time for children so I want to do my best,” she says.

And the results, she points out, can last way beyond childhood.

“If you get children excited about libraries, they are much more likely to become lifelong readers,” she says.

For details on children’s programs at the Deep River Public Library, visit deepriverlibrary.accountsupport.com.

Rita Christopher is the Senior Correspondent for Zip06. Email Rita at news@shorepublishing.com.

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