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Little Libraries That Could

Head Start fosters reading at home, thanks to one volunteer's effort

Howard Leff Mar 8, 2018 1:00 AM

Call Alice Staley the fairy book-mother to Bend's Head Start programs.

The retired educator and grandma recently learned that most of the city's low-income families didn't have a single children's book in their home—a sobering statistic that didn't sit well with the former Montessori instructor.

Instead of trying to figure out how to transport Head Start kids to libraries, she chose instead to bring libraries to them. "I thought, well, maybe if I made a little library and stocked it with books—they could take them home and bring them back—and that would be a way of rotating books into the home," she says.

Staley drew up plans, gathered supplies and hand-built a series of cubby hole-sized "little libraries" from scratch, which she's in the process of donating to Bend's three Head Start locations.

"The main goals," she says, "are to get the children to love books, to get a variety of books into the home, and then hopefully to get some adult in the home or even an older sibling to read aloud to the child. Because the studies that I read showed that if there are books in the home, and if somebody reads aloud to children, those are the two things that are most relevant in predicting success in both life and in school."

The first two libraries are now in East Bend's Head Start classrooms. "In December I came and gave the first little library—a little more than 100 books—so every child got two books to take home and all the rest went in the library. I've collected about 250 books so far, all appropriate for three-to-five-year-olds, which is the age group here," Staley says.

"I think it's amazing that, because of her, every one of my students has books to take home to read as well as return to get new ones," says East Bend Head Start Teacher Advocate Lexi Chandler. "Literature is so important for a child's development and well-being, so having them be able to access books regularly is truly inspiring."

The sight of these students marveling over their suddenly wide selection of books is an authentic reward for all of Staley's hard work. "They are really excited," she says. "They're really sweet. They'll pick them up and try to decide which two they want out of all the books. We spread them all out. They stick their head inside the little libraries. My grandchildren decorated them with pictures of children and animals."

But along with all this success comes a need for more books. Staley hopes to deliver little libraries to Bend's other two Head Start locations later this year. "As the children graduate, they'll keep two of the books. That will sort of deplete our supply, so we're hoping to keep it going," she says.

Donations are always welcome. "The children were so excited to take books home," says Chandler. "One of my students even said, 'I cannot wait to tell my Mom!'"

Those interested in donating children's books can either contact Staley to arrange a pickup, drop them off at the East Bend Head Start building or leave them at The Lot—the Bend food truck court owned by Staley's son.

Donate books:

Alice Staley: staley.alice@gmail.com

East Bend Head Start: 2125 NE Daggett Lane, Bend

The Lot: 745 NW Columbia St., Bend