As Linquita Thomas contemplated the role of reading in her daughter’s life, she thought about how reading makes her daughter think – and also how it makes her feel.
“It helps her cope with day-to-day things,” Thomas said.
She was speaking of her 13-year-old daughter, Caniyah Cunningham, who’s among hundreds of children throughout the county participating, through the Pine Bluff Jefferson County Library System, in this year’s Summer Reading Program. The nation-wide theme is “Libraries Rock!”
On a recent afternoon in the main Pine Bluff library, Caniyah examined a book called “I Heart Band” by Michelle Schusterman. It’s a book Caniyah read some time ago, and she noted the way it teaches her about music.
Danielle McNealy, children’s manager at the Pine Bluff Jefferson County Library, is heartened by the participation in the reading program, with about 160 children participating in the main Pine Bluff location alone. But she’d also like to see more students reading books in the library.
“The gaming and the computers and the Lego table are the hits,” she said, and then she encouraged parents to come into the library with their children – at least long enough for them to obtain a library card. That way it won’t all be about video games. Without a library card they can’t check out books.”
McNealy said children who are younger than 16 years old need to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian to get a library card.
The Summer Reading Program – active at five library locations throughout the county – has included presentations from the community on nature, jazz, magic and other topics. Children have also garnered prizes connected to how much they read.
At the center of it all has been the word, and next week library staff members will offer an event they hope will generate excitement about words. McNealy said the main Pine Bluff library site will offer a poetry slam for teens from 13 to 17 years old. The slam is slated for 2 p.m. this coming Thursday.
“In the past we have done blackout poetry,” McNealy said. “We have had books which are no longer in use, which we call discarded, and you go through and mark out words you don’t want to use in your poem.”
The words that are left are the ones that make the poem.
This year’s poetry slam, on the other hand, will prompt teens to draw the words from their own minds, rather than from a printed page. She likened poetry slams to “spoken word” or “open mic” events.
“You come up with something from your imagination – something unique with words,” she said.
McNealy said, depending on the interest, that she might run the slam as a competition – the way slams are traditionally run. But she’s mostly eager for people to present the words they’ve crafted, words that reveal something about who they are.
“The participants will be able to get up and act out their poem,” she said. “Some people do it with drama. And they can use music since we do have a CD player.”
McNealy said she wants the teens to perform their own poems, but they don’t have to have them memorized.
“Poetry is a very important part of learning and literacy,” she added. “And I wanted to do something where kids are able to express themselves, and to do it in a way that expresses their uniqueness.”
The idea for the slam slips into the larger hopes connected to the Summer Reading Program, as McNealy described it.
“We want to keep the kids reading (during the summer),” she said. “We want to keep their brains going.”
Teenagers in the library on a recent afternoon talked about some of their reading preferences. Thirteen-year-old Kamaury Jackson said he liked the “Percy Jackson & the Olympian” series, and 14-year-old Brian Welch said he enjoyed books about basketball and also books from the “Harry Potter” series.
McNealy, who has a master’s degree in business, has worked as the children’s manager in the library since 2007. But she hasn’t always planned to work in a library.
“The position kind of found me,” she said. “After working down here, it just kind of grew on me. I wanted to provide different things for the kids.”
It’s a position, she said, that gives her a chance to make a place for young people to congregate in the summer – and in other seasons, as well.
“Growing up, I didn’t have things to do in the summer,” she said. “And I saw that we could actually do fun things here.”
The Summer Reading Program runs through July 13. People seeking more information can call the library at 870-534-4802 or visit http://www.pineblufflibrary.org.