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Story-Hour Magic Turns Kids Into Readers

Robert Ostmann Jr. is a regular contributor to Orange County Life.

Story hour wouldn’t begin for another 10 minutes, but the kids and their mothers already were lined up outside the Children’s Bookshoppe in Newport Beach one recent morning.

Libraries and a few other bookstores have begun children’s story programs in recent years, but reading to kids has been a ritual at the Children’s Bookshoppe several mornings a week for 19 years.

“We started with just a few kids from the neighborhood, and then it grew through word of mouth. Now we have a waiting list a mile long of 3-year-olds,” said Sara Brant, former owner and now assistant manager of the bookstore.

Brant said parents sign their children up at age 2 1/2 and wait for slots to open up in the story hours designed for children ages 3 and 4.

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The free story hours offer a welcome weekday respite for mothers staying at home with preschool children, but Brant sees them as catalysts for learning.

“Some children who started with us are in college now, and their parents say their children have a love of literature because of the story hours. I believe that if children have a chance to love books, they will become readers,” said Brant, who taught elementary school for 29 years.

Storyteller Linda Buzzard ushered the early arrivals into the store’s reading nook. The children took their accustomed places in small chairs or on the floor in front of Buzzard’s large reading chair.

“When my children were young, I read to them all the time, and they always came here to get their books,” said Buzzard, as she waited for the rest of the story-hour group to arrive. “After they were grown, I said, ‘I can’t not go to the book shop anymore,’ so I came to work here.”

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Buzzard has been with the store for six years. Her duties include sales and bookkeeping as well as storytelling.

“When I took on keeping the books, I had to give up some of my routine, but I’d never give up storytelling.”

When the full group of 11 children was seated, Buzzard took her seat and opened the story hour with a “Good Morning” song. Then she introduced the morning’s fare, three classics: “The Little Engine That Could,” “Alexander and the Dragon” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”

From the first words, the kids were rapt. Michael Alexander, 4, of Costa Mesa, was a picture of total concentration, thumb planted firmly in mouth, eyes square on Buzzard.

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The children offered running commentary on the familiar stories and characters. When one engine refused to pull the animals’ train over the mountain, Megan Kurishige, 6, of Irvine, chastised, “You silly.”

When Buzzard finished the tale of how the dragon helped Alexander overcome his fear of the dark, Emily Warmington, 3, of Newport Beach, offered, “I’d like him in my bed ‘cause he’s nice.”

Between stories, Buzzard gave the kids attention breaks by having them stretch, sing a song and examine a stuffed Wild Thing.

When the last story was done, Buzzard offered each child in turn a choice of tiny plastic animals from a basket as a keepsake.

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Last in line was Megan Kurishige. Before choosing her animal, she handed Buzzard a bouquet of flowers.

“I’m going to miss you, Mrs. Buzzard.”

This was Megan’s last story hour. She started first grade in a year-round class this week.

“Megan has been coming to story hour every week since she was 3, all that time with Linda,” said Emily Kurishige of Irvine.

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“Megan wouldn’t dare miss it. There’s a real bond there between her and Linda. She has fostered in Megan a real love for stories. I can read her a dozen stories a day and she’d hear more.”

Surprised and moved by the gift of flowers, Buzzard reached out to Megan.

“Come here and give me a hug.”

STORY-HOUR PROGRAMS FOR CHILDREN

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Children’s bookstores and libraries in Orange County offer a wide variety of story-hour programs for preschool and school-age children. Some are free, others cost a nominal amount. Some require reservations. Story hours are held at the following sites:

BOOKSTORES

Children’s Bookshoppe, 1831 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach. (714) 645-1424.

Children’s Book Cottage, 30100 Town Center Drive (at Crown Valley and Alicia parkways), Laguna Niguel. (714) 495-2871.

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Kids’ Place Annex, 14775 Jeffrey Road (at Jeffrey Road and Walnut Avenue), Irvine. (714) 551-1464.

Quinby’s for the Curious Child, 3800 Barranca Parkway (at Barranca Parkway and Culver Drive), Irvine. (714) 559-0423.

LIBRARIES

All branches of the Orange County Library system have story-hour programs. For information, call the number listed in the county government section of the phone book for the nearest branch and ask for the children’s librarian.

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In addition, these city libraries offer story-hour programs: Anaheim, (714) 999-1888. Buena Park, (714) 826-4100. Fullerton, (714) 738-6339. Huntington Beach, (714) 848-7813. Newport Beach, (714) 644-3187. Orange, (714) 532-0391. Placentia, (714) 528-1906. Santa Ana, (714) 647-5258. Yorba Linda, (714) 777-2873.


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