READING CLUBS FOR OLDER BOYS AND GIRLS
Another method used successfully by a number of libraries to interest older boys and girls as they grow away from the story hour is that of the reading circle or reading club. Miss Caroline Hewins' contribution to the Child Conference at Clark University in 1909 was an account of this work in the Hartford Public Library, of "book-talks at entirely informal meetings." A sketch of Miss Hewins appears on page 23.
The boys and girls who are growing up in libraries where story-telling is a part of the weekly routine, at thirteen or fourteen are beginning to feel a little too old to listen to fairy tales or King Arthur legends, and look towards the unexplored delights of the grown-up shelves. Many librarians are taking advantage of this desire for new and interesting books to form boys' and girls' clubs with definite objects. One whom I know after a training with large numbers of children in a city branch library, became librarian in a manufacturing town where there were no boys' clubs, and soon formed a Polar Club, for reading about Arctic exploration. She was fortunate in having an audience hall in the library building, and before the end of the winter the boys had engaged Fiala, the Antarctic explorer, to give a lecture, sold tickets and more than cleared expenses. This, be it remembered, is in a town with no regular theatre or amusement hall, and the librarian is young, enthusiastic, and of attractive personality. The branch libraries in Cleveland have been successful in their clubs, and in back numbers of the Library Journal and Public Libraries, you will find records of organizations of young folk who meet out of library hours, under parliamentary rules, for more or less definite courses of reading. For the reason that the experiments are in print and easily accessible, I shall merely give you a record of my own book-talks at entirely informal meetings.
Long ago, before there were library schools, Harlan H. Ballard, now librarian of the Pittsfield Athenaeum, used St. Nicholas as the organ of the Agassiz Association, which had been in existence for several years with about a hundred members in Berkshire County. The Association grew and soon had chapters all over the world. In the number of St. Nicholas for December, 1881, I find the record of ours, and the name of the first secretary, then a boy of ten or twelve years, now a prominent citizen, a member of the Board of Park Commissioners and School Visitors. We used to go out of doors looking for birds and insects through the spring and fall, and meet in the library in winter for reading from authors like John Burroughs, Dr. C. C. Abbott and Frank Buckland, or the lives of Thomas Edward, Robert Dick, Agassiz and other naturalists, or sometimes a story from a grown-up magazine like one of Annie Trumbull Slosson's or an account of real pets like Frank Bolles's owls. The children in "A. A. Chapter B" all had good homes, good vocabularies and reading fathers and mothers, and listened with interest to books that are far in advance of the children of their age who began to come to the library after it was made public. The chapter lived long enough to admit the children of at least one of its original members, and only died because Saturday morning, the only morning in the week when children are free, had important business engagements for the librarian, who feels that "Nature-study," too, plays an important part in schools now-a-days, and that in the language of "My Double", "there has been so much said, and on the whole so well said," that there is less need than there used to be of such a club, although it is a great deprivation not to have the long country walks and the Saturday readings and talks with the children. A librarian or a settlement worker who sees only children from non-English speaking homes is in danger of forgetting that there are others who can use books in unsimplified form.
This is the only club connected with the library which had a formal organization, but in giving a talk one day several years ago to the upper grades of a school, I asked how many boys and girls were going to stay in town through the summer, and invited all who were to come to the library one afternoon a week for a book-talk. The next year I sent the same invitation to several schools, and gave in both summers running comments and reading of attractive passages from books on Indians, animals, the North Pole, adventures, machines, books of poetry, stories about pictures and some out-of-the-way story books, with a tableful of others that there was not time to read from. The titles of the books are in Public Libraries, June, 1900, and are largely from the grown-up shelves. This was five or six years before our boys' and girls' room was opened and the children had free access to all their own books.
The third year the programme was a little varied. Some of the subjects were "Books that tell how to do things," "A great author and his friends (Sir Walter Scott)," "Another great author and his short stories (Washington Irving)." I have always made a great deal of the friendship between these two authors, and as most of our children are Jewish, I have often told the story and shown the portrait of Rebecca Gratz, the Philadelphia Jewess, who was too true to her religion to marry a Christian, and whose story as told by Irving, whose promised wife had been her friend, gave Scott his noble ideal of the character of Rebecca.
One year we had an afternoon about knights and tournaments, and by an easy transition, the subject for the next week was "What happened to a man who read too much about knights," giving an opportunity for an introduction to Don Quixote. After that two dream-stories opened the way to a fine illustrated edition of the Pilgrim's Progress, and stories from Dante.
The next year, I tried stories of English history, in nine or ten different periods, reading from one book every week and suggesting others. After the opening of the boys' and girls' room, the book-talks for one or two summers for seventh and eighth grade pupils, were upon some of the pictures in the room: Windsor Castle, Kenilworth, Heidelberg Castle, the Alhambra, the Canterbury Pilgrims and some Shakespeare stories. Afterwards, "What you can get out of a Henty book" gave a chance for interesting picture bulletins, and the use of other books referring to the times of "Beric the Briton," "The Boy Knight," "Knights of the White Cross," "Bonnie Prince Charlie,"
"In the Reign of Terror." Last year and this I have been reading Scott and Dickens aloud.
We have some of the Detroit colored photographs of places of historic interest, Windsor Castle for which I used Lydia Maria Child's story of "The Royal Rosebud," although most of the little princess's early life was passed in sanctuary at Westminster. On the afternoon when Kenilworth was the subject, I read all of Scott's novel that we had time for. Once on the Alhambra day, we have had Irving's story of the Arabian astrologer, and again a description of the palace and the Generalife who had just come from Spain. There was little in print about Heidelberg that I could use, and I had to write out the whole story of the Winter King and his Queen, James First's daughter Elizabeth, ancestress of the present king of England and mother of a large family.
Two years ago, in the interim between one children's librarian who was married in June and her successor who could not come till September, I spent most of the summer in the boys' and girls' room, and learned two things. Some of the children thought that they had read all the books on the shelves, and were asking for grown-up cards. They were kept in the room by transferring some duplicate copies of novels best worth reading from the main library and putting red stars on the back and the book-card. Then I was able to talk with girls who had read all of Laura Richards's Hildegarde books, but had never thought of looking up one of the poems or stories that she loved, or one of the pictures in her room. I have sometimes read the description of the room to a class in a schoolroom, and put on the blackboard all the names of places, persons, books and poems in it. One year I invited girls to form a Hildegarde Club for reading these very things, and in writing to Mrs. Richards on another subject, mentioned it. She wrote me an answer that I have had framed for the girls to see. The Club lived for a few months and used to meet on Saturday afternoons for reading "The Days of Bruce," but at the Christmas holidays the girls went into the department stores for a few weeks and forgot to come back. However, I am very happy to tell the story of another Hildegarde Club that is still flourishing. The teacher of a ninth grade class loves books, and was quick to seize the hint of such a club, which she organized from the girls in her room, and asked permission to bring to my office for its weekly meetings. She is keeping them up to their work because she sees them every day, and they are interested and learning how much they can find in a book besides the story. Besides this, they are observant and appreciative of whatever they see on the walls of my room. The girls to whom I gave a general invitation by means of a newspaper article were not from the same school and did not all know each other. It is better in organizing a club to have some common ground of interest and begin with a small number. It cannot always be done in a city in or through the library, except indirectly, by means of a Settlement or other club. One that I know does very good work in its meetings with the Settlement headworker and has a small collection of books and pictures from the main library for six months, and a more elementary bookshelf for a younger club with whom one of the members is reading the same subject.
A librarian or library assistant can do some of her best work in a Settlement club either in connection with the Settlement library or independently. Readings from Dickens can be illustrated by scenes acted in pantomime, with very simple properties. Indeed, we had not even a curtain when Miss La Creevy painted Kate's miniature, when the Savage and the Maiden danced their inimitable dance, when Mrs. Kenwigs and Morleena held a reception for Mrs. Crummles, the Phenomenon and the ladies of their company, when after they had recited from their star parts, Morleena had the soles of her shoes chalked and danced her fancy dance, and Henrietta Petowker took down her back hair and repeated "The Blooddrinker's Burial." The old man looked over the wall, too, and threw garden vegetables and languishing glances at Mrs. Nickleby who encouraged his advances. There was no time for the girls to learn the parts in the busy, crowded, late-open holiday evenings of department stores, but they all entered into the pantomime and interpreted the reading with spirit, as they did at another time in some of the Shakespeare scenes, Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone, Hamlet and Ophelia, Bottom and Titania, with attendant fairies, and Shylock and Portia. The Dickens scenes were repeated for a younger club, just trying its dramatic wings in charades, and when May-time came these younger girls of twelve to fifteen gave a very successful representation of an old English May-day with Robin Hood and his merry band, a Jester, a Dragon, a Hobby-horse and Jack in the Green, Maid Marian and the Lord and Lady of the May on the library green.
The opportunity of a library in a small town, where there is more leisure than in a city, is in the formation of young people's clubs. One day, a year or two ago, I visited three libraries on the Sound shore in Connecticut. In one, the librarian had made her basement useful out of library hours by organizing a class of chair-caning for boys who were beginning to hang around the streets, and were in danger of being compelled to learn the art in the Reform School if they did not acquire it as a means of keeping their hands from mischief at home. In the next town, the librarian mounted and identified all the moths and butterflies that the children brought to her and gave them insect books. In the library beyond, the children were formed into a branch of the Flower Mission in the nearest city. The club need not always be for reading, but must depend on the resources or interests of the boys and girls. There is no need of debating clubs in our library, for the city is full of them, but they may be the very best thing that the librarian in the next town can form.
A reading club must not necessarily be a club for the study or enjoyment of stories, history or poetry. Under the guidance of the kind of librarian who aims far above her audience, it may turn into something like Mr. Wopsle's quarterly examinations of his great aunt's school, "when what he did," says Pip, "was to turn up his cuffs, stick up his hair and give us Mark Antony's oration over the body of Caesar. This was always followed by Collins's Ode on the Passions, wherein I particularly venerated Mr. Wopsle as Revenge, throwing his bloodstained sword in thunder down, and taking the war-renouncing trumpet with a withering look." There may be a club for making things out of the Beard books, for the study of sleight-of- hand, for exchanging postcards with children in other countries and reading about the places on them. It may make historical pilgrimages to places of interest in the town or may collect stones and clay nodules, and read about them. The important thing is to find children of nearly the same age and neighborhood with interests in common, and let them decide whom they shall ask to join the club after it is formed. Better yet if they ask for the club in the first place. One not very long-lived Settlement club which I knew was of boys who wished to read and act Shakespeare, but a very few evenings convinced them that as they could not even read the lines without stumbling, they were not on the road to the actors' Temple of Fame. They were boys who had left school at fourteen in the lower grades, except one, who had taken his High School examinations and is now at the head of a department in a large department store and a prominent member of a political study club. The others, who had expected to play prominent Shakespearean parts with little or no work, were easily discouraged, dropped off and were seen no more. The reading of very simple plays at first is a good stepping-stone to a study of Shakespeare later, but the plays must be interesting enough to hold the attention of boys who do not read fluently.