Children's librarian's mission: 'Make reading fun' for Ledyard kids
Ledyard - Dressed in colors as bright as the toys and books that fill the Bill Library children's section, 62-year-old Nancy Brewer has become as much of a fixture there as Bosco, the giant stuffed bear that the children adopted as a mascot.
She blends so expertly into the room that a first-time visitor might not notice her behind the desk her co-workers call "the fortress," watching children from behind turrets of books and magazines waiting to be read.
("Please do not take the books off Mrs. Brewer's desk! Thank you!" reads a note taped below them.)
In her 25 years as the Ledyard Public Libraries children's librarian, Brewer - who began studying nursing before finding herself here - has not only watched the children from her 1989 and early 1990s story times grow up, but has recently begun reading to the children of those children.
And in a quarter-century among Bill Library's shelves, Brewer doesn't seem to have tired of it.
"What a job!" exclaimed Brewer, reveling in the fact that its big drawback is that her pile of to-read children's books is constantly growing.
She believes it's her responsibility to get children interested in reading, which means devising innovative stunts to get their attention and browsing Pinterest for crafts or activities that can be used during library events.
"Anything to make reading fun," said Brewer, who sacrifices herself to the mercy of the most well-read elementary school students four times a year to promote that cause.
A few years ago, that meant a stop at each of Ledyard's four elementary schools to let the student with the most recorded reading minutes feed her a freeze-dried cricket.
"It was nasty," said Brewer of the sour cream and chive flavored crickets she found at Nature's Art Village, which she said tasted like dried leaves. But it certainly struck a chord.
Kids still bring it up today, she said, telling her, "Hey, you were the one who ate that bug!"
She's not only the one who ate that bug (while, it should be noted, wearing a hat covered with toy insects), but the one who let kids paint her hair or clothes or showed up at their school as "Professor Wienerschnitzel," with crazy white hair and a mustache and a repertoire of goofy science experiments.
And if last Thursday was any indication, she rarely hides behind her desk's turrets, shushing children like a stereotypical librarian.
"I can't believe how big your baby's getting!" said Brewer on Thursday as library patron Alyssa McIntyre and her three children visited that afternoon.
She went on to help Dylan McIntyre, age 7, get his "book bucks" for summer reading and sort through buckets of toys available for purchase with the library currency.
Dylan gravitated toward a set of vampire teeth - 1 book buck a piece and an appropriate choice, noted Brewer, for a kid with missing front teeth and a T-Rex shirt.
"Everybody loves Nancy," said Alyssa McIntyre, who has been attending story times at Bill Library since her 11-year-old was 2. "She's great at helping kids get interested in different (book) series."
Brewer said she often orders books with a certain kid in mind, or acts on requests from the children. But she also likes to read books herself before she recommends them, part of the reason they pile up on her desk.
Being able to browse a publisher's catalog and say, "Oh, that's a perfect book for Brian" is one of the jobs of working at a small-town library, said Brewer, who has lived in Ledyard since 1983 and watched her own children graduate from Ledyard High School.
But she also orders and recommends books without any particular children in mind, as she did with "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio, which came out in February 2012.
The story centers on a disabled boy's first year in public school after being homeschooled and shows the reaction of classmates to his rare facial deformities. It alternates through various points of view and Brewer said it is one of her "favorite" new books.
"I'd love every sixth- or seventh-grader to read that book," she said.
As kids browse the books on Thursday, they talk - though not too loudly. Brewer said she often finds herself correcting parents who tell their children to whisper.
In the children's room, they are allowed to use their normal voice. Libraries, said Brewer, should be a "welcoming place" - one that kids aren't afraid to visit.
Brewer started radiating that welcoming atmosphere early in her career, if a thank-you note pinned on her bulletin board is any indication.
"Thank you for helping me," a boy scribbled on green scrap paper in October 1989, after Brewer provided assistance with a school report. "I guess libraries aren't so bad after all."
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