Every year, an organization called the Collaborative Summer Library Program announces the theme for the upcoming summer, a motto around which our staff (and those of many other public libraries across the country) will build their summer program.
When I read the email revealing this year’s theme, I did a happy dance in my office. The 2020 theme was going to be “Imagine Your Story,” celebrating fairy tales, legends, folktales and imagination. I’m one of those people who got engaged at Disney World and sings “Let It Go” every karaoke night. Needless to say, I was all in.
Between that announcement and the arrival of summer, the world changed. Like many others, I felt disconnected from ideas that months ago seemed like so much fun. But I have realized something: “Imagine Your Story” is still the right theme for this year. Stories are important. Telling our own story is important. Listening to the stories of others is important. One day, students will read about this moment in history class, and we all have a part in imagining what we want the story of our community to be and creating it.
While I am excited to share books set in the world of make-believe with kids during our virtual storytimes this summer, I wanted to address these same children as story-keepers themselves. Enter the “Tell Me Your Story” project. Each Friday this summer on the library’s Facebook page, you will find a new question prompt. We encourage kids to choose a living member of their family or community whose life they want to learn more about. Then, each week, ask that person the assigned question and record the answer (digitally or on paper). By the end of the summer, that child will have a story unlike any other.
Speaking of those virtual storytimes, in the past year I read about 100 picture books from our collection in preparation for this summer. Because I have been up to my ears in folktales, tall tales and fairy tales, I have recommendations for a wide range of requests. A dozen variations of "The Three Little Pigs"? Got it. An amazing collection of bilingual English/Spanish nursery rhymes? Yep. A slapstick adventure where all the fairy tale characters get slimed? That is a thing.
Out of those dozens of picture books, one comes to mind as a great read for families right now: “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat” by Simms Taback. A winner of the Caldecott Medal, this heartwarming book based in Jewish folklore follows the transformation of a faded garment. When Joseph’s overcoat is too tattered and old, he turns it into a jacket ... then a vest ... then a scarf and so on until it’s reduced to a button, which Joseph loses.
While it seems like nothing remains of the overcoat, which Joseph has worn in some form or another to countless events, Joseph finds the lesson: There is still the story. This charming, joyful book tells us that “you can always make something out of nothing.” You always have your story, and that story is important.
Lizzy Gregory Stuckey is the youth services manager for the Dalton-Whitfield County Public Library.