Person of the Week
Gayle Byrne: Beyond Book Smart
Killingworth Library Children's Librarian Gayle Byrne holds up her first book, Sometimes It's Grandmas and Grandpas: Not Mommies and Daddies. She has written and released a second book, and a third one is with the publisher. (Photo by Maria Caulfield/The Source | Buy This Photo)
How can a full-time librarian be even more involved with books?
By writing them.
That’s what Gayle Byrne has done. As the full-time children’s librarian at the Killingworth Library, she is immersed in books but also found time to write two children’s books, with a third in the works.
For Gayle, writing her first book was a job she felt she had to undertake. Sometimes It’s Grandmas and Grandpas: Not Mommies and Daddies was published 10 years ago.
Although protective of her family’s privacy, Gayle wanted to address a phenomenon that she and her husband John were living—grandparents bringing up grandchildren.
Raising her granddaughter, Jasmine, Gayle noticed a dearth of children’s reading material about their family situation, which she calls a “grandfamily.”
“What I found was—and this is a little bit of background to the book: When our granddaughter moved in with us, we actually were surrounded by books,” Gayle recalls. “And I found that we would be reading stories to her about families, and it never quite resonated with her idea of the family she was living in. She was living with grandma and grandpa.”
Gayle’s book relates a typical day of a young girl, shared from her perspective, as she lives her happy life with her grandparents whom she calls “Poppy” and “Nonnie.” The names of endearment are the same ones Jasmine uses for her grandparents.
When parents are unable to fulfill their responsibility, Gayle says that grandparents become “the safety net for families that really are struggling in today’s world, for whatever reason—whether it’s substance abuse [or] mental illness. [Fathers or mothers] are just not able to parent for whatever reason, and the grandparents are the first phone call.
“I really want the story and the connection of grandfamilies,” she adds. “And especially now, grandfamilies are so important because the grandparents are the safety net for children.”
The book won the 2012 Book Award for Best Children’s Literature on Aging in the primary reader category from the K–12 Committee of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education (AGHE). It is now a valuable resource for youngsters who live the same family situation as Gayle’s granddaughter.
The second book, Sometimes Just One is Just Right, addresses another family situation: being an only child in the family. This time, the book is told from the perspective of a young boy who realizes and accepts the ups and downs of being the only child as he compares his situation with that of his cousin who lives as part of a large family.
Abbeville Press published both books, and Gayle reveals that her third book is already with the press.
Working as a Librarian
Before coming to the Killingworth Library, Gayle taught child development at the Haddam-Killingworth Child Study Center for 12 years. When the center was discontinued, she applied at the Killingworth Library and was hired in 2000 as its first children’s librarian.
“The wonderful [thing] about being the first children’s librarian here, I got to start the programs. I got to create from scratch,” she says.
Today, the children’s section hosts several programs that target children from toddlers to middle schoolers.
One of the more popular ones is Paws and Read, a program that brings in Turbo, a therapy dog from Pet Partners, and his handler-owner Sally Sizer, to spend time with children at the library.
“We are in our 19th year of Paws and Read,” Gayle says. “It’s once a week, the children sign up for a four-week session, and they come in. We typically have it on a Tuesday night.
“We have a dog bed and the dog sits on it, and the child reads…We are lucky enough that we have Sally, who actually trains other handlers throughout the state,” Gayle explains.
The Paws and Read program’s longevity is perhaps a testament to its effectiveness—and so is the feedback she gets from its participants, including a young man whose love for reading was nurtured by the program.
“One of the students who was on my very first Paws and Read…came in and recently has resurfaced back into the community. Out of college now, [he’s] a professional, and he has said the Paws and Read program—reading with that dog and being part of that program—opened up reading for him,” she says.
“You don’t realize the value in that until you go through your 12 years of school, until you then go to college, until you then go into the professional world, and you say to yourself [and] have a little introspection, ‘What made me be so keen on reading?’ and you think back. And he has said to me, ‘I want to give back to you. If the library needs me for anything, here’s my contact information,’” Gayle recalls.
Another program she implemented takes place in the summer and gives the minds and bodies of middle schoolers a workout.
“When we built our middle school, the new Haddam-Killingworth Middle School, I realized that they had this glorious fitness room. But during the summer, the kids aren’t at school and it sits. So, I contacted the principal and I said, ‘I want to start a program called Read and Ride.’ Now I bring my middle school patrons there for an hour and we read books as we spin bicycles,” she explains.
Other programs keep young minds interested in reading. The Readers and Eaters program lets middle schoolers eat while reading books.
“It’s a book discussion group that I do during the winter months…It’s Tuesday nights and that’s for my middle schoolers again. We come in and we have books that I get through interlibrary loans, so I have multiple copies. The wonderful thing about that is Da Vinci Pizza gives us the pizza,” Gayle says.
She implemented several more programs to target the different age groups at the children’s section.
A bilingual program, ABC Amigos, gives toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary students the chance to explore the Spanish language through songs, games, and stories.
Love 2 Sign is a sign language program designed for children six months to six years to enhance fine motor skills, encourage language development, promote creativity, and build self-esteem.
There is also Traveling Tales, a program where Gayle travels once a month to licensed daycare centers to bring story time to young patrons.
In addition, there are stand-alone activities that are interspersed with all her regular programs. One such activity is the library’s intergenerational program that lets children engage in an activity with older patrons. She has arranged for a magic presentation and an origami activity, among others, as part of the program.
Gayle has made such an impact in town that in 2014 she was inducted to the Haddam-Killingworth Hall of Fame.
Danielle O’Linn, a Killingworth resident who has served on the parent advisory board at the Haddam-Killingworth Middle School, says of Gayle, “She is an amazing children’s librarian and educator. Her impact is far reaching. She’s a blessing to our community.”
Gayle believes that the success with her library programs results from the focus she has placed on relating and communicating with others, especially her young patrons at the library.
“I think it’s important in today’s world to connect, and I see that as the most enjoyable part of my job and the biggest challenge of my job—to connect with the children, connect with their families, make a difference in their lives, and offer something else they can’t get anywhere else but here,” she says.
“They come in here, and they’re accepted. You know when you walk through the doors, there’s just a welcoming sense, and that’s what I want them to feel when they walk into the children’s room.”
For more information about the programs at the Killingworth Library, call 860-663-2000 or visit www.killingworthlibrary.org.
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