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Debbie Verrillo, known as "Mrs. Debbie" to young library patrons, is understandably excited about the children's programming at North Branford's Edward Smith Library this summer.
The fun starts this week with Conservation Quest, Stepping Stone Museum for Children's traveling exhibit of hands-on conservation stations, available for kids to explore now through Tuesday, June 10 at Smith public library, in the Northford section of town.
"It's a value-added experience for any family," says Debbie, head of Children's Services. "They usually have to go to the children's museum, but now, it's right here. You can even stop in on your way home from work or a ball game."
At the multiple stations, kids can play with circuits to power up lights, radios, and fans. They'll learn about solar, wind, and hydropower and explore ways to save energy with light bulbs, electricity, and recycling. From "Sort the Waste" to learning how to generate electricity from trash, the exhibit is the perfect kick off to the science theme incorporated into the Governor's Summer Reading Challenge, "Fizz, Boom, Read!"
To build on the science element, Debbie has plenty of neat programs and events taking place at Smith for kids this summer, where her summer reading game also includes an animal theme for younger ones. Some of the programs will also take place at the town's other public library, Atwater, where Children's Librarian Donna Wiedenmann has selected a music theme.
"Some programs will be offered at both libraries at different times," says Debbie. "And, since we're only 10 minutes apart, I'm going to encourage them to also go to Donna for her concerts and she's going to encourage them to come here for our animal programs."
Debbie's bringing in a beekeeper with a live observation hive (Thursday, June 26) and a live turtle demonstration (Tuesday, July 15) and has science summer crafts ranging from building a hummingbird feeder (Wednesday, June 25) to an egg shell geode science experiment (Wednesday, July 9). There are many more programs and workshops; visit www.nbranford.loininc.org to learn more.
Among the programs, on Wednesday, July 23, Sciencetellers will put on its high energy "potions" performance at the Atwater at 4:30 p.m. and again at Smith at 6:30 p.m. Debbie's particularly excited to include a mini food truck fest as part of Smith's program, after a similar "truck night" got a huge response in the fall.
"We'll have Sciencetellers and on that same night we'll have food trucks park in parking lot, so parents can pick up their children, grab a bite to eat, and come to the show. Being a working parent myself, I realize that it's hard to fit in everything! So hopefully, this will help them. In the fall, we probably had 300 or so people. It was fantastic," says Debbie.
On a similar note, an ice cream truck will stop by following Creature Teachers (Thursday, July 10 at 6:30 p.m.) at Smith.
"Last year was the first year we had the ice cream truck, and the performer came out and joined us! So we were all sitting on the lawn with our ice cream and talking-it was a beautiful summer night in the community. That's the part I love the most about my job, is being in the community and being together."
Debbie has been heading Smith's Children's Services for 25 years, coming into the career as an educator with a teaching degree in physical education.
"I starting going to the library with my own children and fell in love with reading with them. My kids and I rediscovered books together," says Debbie, who lives in Guilford.
The UConn alumnae also coached field hockey, assisting North Branford High School Varsity Coach Babby Nuhn before beginning full-time at Smith.
Debbie loves to see kids stay active and encourages them to "explore and play" in every location (except, of course, the quiet area) of the spacious Children's Room. This summer, she's also installing a summer Story Walk on the library grounds, planned to open Monday, June 23 to coincide with the kick-off of Smith's Summer Reading program, which awards fun little prizes and a chance to win a Kindle Fire to all who complete their summer reading.
"I'm working with Liz Caplan, the art teacher at North Branford High School, to do a story walk. We'll take apart a book, laminate the pages, and to post them so children can walk along and read. The book is 'ly Monarch Fly, so kids are going to read the story and then the can come in and see the butterfly house that will be in our display case," says Debbie.
Sticking with the critter theme, and with much thanks to Lindsey Hottin, a young and talented artist who works with Debbie, Smith's summer reading animal theme is coming alive, from oversized zoologist coloring sheets for pre-readers to the fabulous Reading Zoo playhouse now set up in the Children's Room. Hottin's also contributed much more to the room, including a gigantic giraffe wall painting the kids love to look up to.
"Lindsey is very artistic; and we can brainstorm together and she can make it happen. That's another nice part of working here, I have a wonderful staff to work with," says Debbie.
A member of the Board of Friends of Outer Island, Debbie enjoys helping chaperone kids from town each summer on a library-run cruise of the Thimble Islands. The kids will also take a trip to Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasset State Park, followed by a "Science of Sand Castle Building" session, on Wednesday, July 2. With a limited budget, Debbie works to find programs that carry a nominal charge, are offered for free, or can be supported with help from the library's friends volunteer organization.
"The Friends of Edward Smith Library always help us out with our summer programs and we couldn't do it without them," says Debbie.
Among her own volunteer efforts, Debbie especially enjoys helping the Yale Center for British Art Artism program.
"Their Artism program is for children on the autism spectrum. I had taken an art in literacy program there for the summer, because I highly believe that children can read pictures-and then [autism-spectrum school] SAILS moved in up the street and asked if I could do a program here for autistic kids," says Debbie, who went back to the center to ask if she could observe the Artism program.
The organizer soon asked Debbie if she would be interested in volunteering with the hands-on group, which encourages participants to enjoy experiencing and creating art with others as well as siblings and family members.
"I've learned so much about how to reach out to them on their level, and make it multisensory. It's just a fabulous program," says Debbie. "So now I feel more comfortable, when I have [SAILS] groups of young adults come down, because I just did this at the gallery. I think there's a real need for that. I really enjoy seeing the kids, and having people who are professionals in this area that are critiquing it and giving information on how to make it better. So I get to be a part of that and bring it back to my community."
Instilling a love of reading in young ones is another way Debbie hopes she contributes.
"Reading is a lifelong skill that you're going to use for the rest of your life. More importantly than that, once you get into a book, you're on an adventure. Another nice thing is learning about playing and cooperation, and that's the neat part about a library today. It's not a sterile place where you have to be quiet and don't talk. I invite them to come in and share the experience. I love it here."