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If you’re a kid or if you take care of a kid, chances are you use the library a lot. Listen in on some creative ways that libraries are engaging with children and their caregivers, from writing workshops just for caregivers to classes that help patrons open daycare centers in their own homes. 

Want to read more about the topics brought up in this episode? Check out the following links:

Episode Transcript

Raquel Penzo The checkout desk was here. And obviously, back then it was like the stamp on the card in the back of the book type of thing. And the little machine that kind of would desensitize it … the little thump sound that I miss, kind of.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras This is Raquel Penzo. We met her at Marcy Library in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, where Raquel used to go when she was growing up.

Raquel Penzo There were detectors here, so if you try to walk out with a book it would beep if you didn't check your book out. So that's not here anymore ... that used to be right here. 

Virginia Marshall Did that happen to you? 

Raquel Penzo No. I always check my books out. I was a good girl. [laughs] I was a good Catholic girl.

Adwoa Adusei Raquel explained that she went to the library a lot as a kid, but this was her first time back at Marcy Library in a while. She had a lot of memories of the place because when she was growing up, she came to this building almost every day.

Raquel Penzo The library was like the only place I could come unsupervised and without permission. You know, there were no cell phones. So I would just come after school, and when I came home late, they’d be like, “Where were you?” “I was at the library!” And I’d show my proof that I had my books. They’d be like, “Oh, okay.” I think they just felt like it was … like nothing bad could happen in a place where there were books. Literally school and the library were the only places I could go because, I mean it, was Bed Stuy 80s and 90s in the middle the crack era, it was pretty dangerous. They just felt like if it was a place where you were learning, then it was safe to be there.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Raquel now works for BPL. She’s actually a colleague of mine, and works on our team as one of our copywriters. She has two daughters, and when her younger daughter was in middle school, Raquel came up against the same issue that her parents faced when she was growing up: where to send her kid after school.

Raquel Penzo She aged out of after school care, and I just felt she was too old for a nanny. And when I tried to look up the laws in New York when you can keep a child home alone they were very nebulous. There was no, like, “Yes at this age you can leave them home.” It was like, “It depends on your child's maturity.” And I'm like, I don't want someone to call Child Protective Services on me! So I said, “Okay, fine, why don't you meet me—it was the Windsor Terrace Library—just stay there until I get off work at 5:00. I'll walk over, get there 5:45 / 6 o'clock and then we go home.” And she was like, “Okay.”

Adwoa Adusei Like mother, like daughter, right? And Raquel’s experience isn’t so unique. I mean, many older children come into our branches after school either to hang out with their friends or get homework done. It’s a safe place for parents to come and pick their kids up after school.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Yeah, you just stroll down our youth wing at Central Library after 3pm and you’ll see what we’re talking about.

Gabriel Hibbert I started coming here in third grade. She started coming in kindergarten. 

Somaya Watson Kindergarten.

Adwoa Adusei Somaya and Gabriel are eight and ten years old, and they come to the library every day after school.

Gabriel Hibbert Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. 

Samaya Watson We do our homework.

Gabriel Hibbert And then if the library has a program upstairs in the Youth Wing, we go there and we have some fun and we learn new things. And if there’s something wrong, like if somebody’s bullying you or something, you could tell the librarians and the librarians will take care of it, solve it easily, without any yelling or screaming. 

Amir Martin I do my homework. When I’m done with that, I will just come and get books and start reading. And, being just me.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Amir is also eight years old, and he’s in the same tutoring group as Somaya and Gabriel. 

Amir Martin And I like the Brooklyn Library because I feel like when I’m at my grandparents’ house. It makes me feel like all these books and stuff I see just make me feel comfortable, and to read and just do me. Just be me.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras There’s a lot of great programming at the library to keep kids busy after school — there’s homework help, gaming groups, arts and crafts and manga book clubs. But it’s not only for the kids, right? At the library, we are making efforts to serve the people who take care of the kids, whether that’s day care workers, nannies, grandparents or babysitters … we’ve got stuff for you to do, too.

Adwoa Adusei We’re kind of here for all of it.  

Krissa Corbett Cavouras I’m Krissa Corbett Cavouras.

Adwoa Adusei And I’m Adwoa Adusei. You’re listening to Borrowed: stories that start at the library.

Kids dancing at the library.
(Gregg Richards, Brooklyn Public Library)

Adwoa Adusei So we heard from Somaya, Amir and Gabriel, and also from Raquel — who all have used the library as a safe place after school. But we’re calling this episode “Stroller Parking,” right Krissa?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Right. Which means we’re going to talk about little kids: the infants and toddlers and the people who take care of them. Because, while it’s a joy to have a tiny kid, it’s also a ton of work. You’ve either got to stop working and take care of your own kid, pay for a caregiver full time, or enroll your kid in a daycare center … and the coordination is kind of incredible. My husband and I have a two-year-old and it was just astounding to how much childcare becomes this all-consuming topic for parents of young kids.

Adwoa Adusei Not to mention it’s really expensive, right?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Yeah. In New York State, the average cost of infant care is over $15,000 a year! That’s more than in-state tuition for college. It’s more than average rent for the year in New York State, which is just mind-boggling. And, New York City, incredibly, has universal pre-k for four-year-olds … but there are four years of time to fill before that.

Adwoa Adusei It’s a challenge that all new parents have to navigate, parents like Patricia Moore, who stopped working when she had kids and stayed at home to take care of them.

Patricia Moore And, you know, so I thought to myself hmm … What can I do while I'm home to bring in an income?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras At the time, Pat was going to the library a lot. She lives in Harlem, so she went to a branch of the New York Public Library. And she was so excited to find out that they were offering was a daycare certification course.

Patricia Moore You know, I took the course and I got my certificate and then I opened up a family day care at home where my children were members. In addition to some families that lived in my building.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras You know, for Pat it was the perfect situation. She didn’t have to pay for child care, and she got extra income from the other families whose children stayed with her during the day. But it is actually quite a lot of work to set up a daycare center in New York City. You have to have a certificate, your home has to pass a health and safety inspection … and the library helped her navigate all of that. She even took CPR classes and early literacy prep all at NYPL.

Adwoa Adusei Pat ran a daycare center in her home for about three years. She took her kids to parks, libraries, and museums. And when her kids got older, she stopped the daycare business and got a job at Brooklyn Public Library, at the New Lots branch where she’s now the children’s librarian.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras New Lots is a neighborhood in East New York with lots of immigrants. One in three people are born abroad, often from the Dominican Republic, Guyana or Jamaica. But it also has high rates of poverty compared to the rest of New York City. One in three residents of East New York lives below the poverty line.

Adwoa Adusei And, perhaps it goes without saying that the cost of child care is even more of a weight for people living below the poverty line. According to the Economic Policy Institute, a person making minimum wage would have to work from January to August, full time, in order just to pay for infant care for one child. And that’s before thinking about housing and food and clothing for yourself or your kid. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras So, you know, impossible, basically. And, with all these factors, Pat saw the need for more home daycare centers in East New York where she was working. Not only are home daycare centers often more affordable than centers situated outside the home, but there’s also an advantage for immigrant communities to have their kids cared for in someone’s home where they might share the culture and the language.

Patricia Moore I just thought about myself and my own experience at home, you know. So I said, well why don't we train the women in this neighborhood to become licensed business owners? Why don't we train them so that they can open their own family daycares?

Adwoa Adusei So, Pat started a program called “Root Resource” at New Lots, with funding from the library’s incubator program, which we mentioned before on the show. Pat’s program, modeled off the one she attended at NYPL, and it offered education on how to open a child care business in your own home and help with the certification process. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras One of the biggest advantages of having the program in the library was the fact that Pat could instruct participants in early literacy, which is something we do all the time. And it’s so critically important in those first few years of a kid’s life. And, of course, what’s wonderful is, that’s education that can happen in any language.

Adwoa Adusei Absolutely. Pat’s program first ran in 2016 for about a dozen participants. It was such a success that it was funded for the next two years with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. So, dozens more got to take advantage of the program.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras So, do we know if graduates of the program opened their own daycare centers?

Adwoa Adusei A few of them did, yes! And others found jobs at daycare centers outside of the home. So the skills the participants learned in the classes were definitely transferrable.

Adwoa Adusei Yeah. There are so many ways to be a childcare provider. And, when it came time for us to figure out childcare for my son, we decided to hire a nanny for his first year and a half, and that is an option available to some families. And, you can be sure that people who work as nannies use the library a lot, too, but in a different way. 

Caregivers and their charges on stage during one of BPL's Stomp Clap and Sing events in the Dweck Auditorium.
(Gregg Richards, Brooklyn Public Library)

Diana Rojas My name is Diana Rojas. I’ve been a nanny for the past decade in New York City.

Adwoa Adusei We met Diana at Brooklyn’s Central Library a few months ago, in the children’s section with the sound of kids playing all around. Diana came from Colombia, where she had worked as a teacher. And she said that when she got to the US, she wanted to find work with kids.

Diana Rojas It’s very different, but … and of course the language is a big barrier because it’s awful when you can’t communicate or you can’t explain things to the little kids. But, you know, every day gets better.

Adwoa Adusei Diana was able to find work as a nanny for a family on the Upper West Side. she would commute there from Queens, until the family moved to Westchester, and now she commutes to Westchester to care for the kids. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Being with little kids all day is a joy, but it is also a lot of work. And, the nannies know that better than anyone. You’ve got to be coming up with things to do all day or else you’re stuck at home … so, a lot of nannies turn to the library.

Diana Rojas Yeah the library has been a very big part of the life as a nanny because the library always has activities for the kids and it’s a magnet.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras And, Diana is not the only one! You know, if you walk into the Central Youth Wing at certain times of day there is a pack of strollers at the back that’s, you know, three deep. They come to the library for story times and in particular, one of our most popular programs is called Stop, Clap and Sing on Tuesday mornings. We have this amazing picture up on our website of the stroller parking at Central as it is on one of those days. 

Stroller parking for BPL's Stomp, Clap and Sing program.
(Virginia Marshall, Brooklyn Public Library)

Adwoa Adusei It’s definitely a sight to see, so you should check it out. But, something the library realized a few years ago that I found interested was that even though both the caregiver and the child were coming into our branches, there was really only programming for kids. There wasn’t much going on for the caregivers in particular. So, that’s when BPL Presents, our Arts and Culture department here at the library, created writing workshops just for nannies, inspired by the work of poet Mark Nowak. 

Fadwa Abbas I think,  I was a little skeptical at the beginning about this idea of caregivers writing stories for children.

Adwoa Adusei This is Fadwa Abbas. She’s been leading the Nannies’ Fairy Tale Writing Workshop for the past four years. 

Fadwa Abbas But I think, you know, one of the really fun things about the class is the whole conversation is about how you can hide a lot of really powerful critique in children’s stories and how in some ways you’re engineering the future when you’re telling stories to children. So we read the version of The Little Mermaid that’s written for five-year-olds. We deconstruct the language and then everyone is really horrified by what is being communicated in that story. [Laughs]

[Sound from the class]

Fadwa Abbas So, who wants to go first? All right … 

Student Elephant and hippo … In the sweltering midday heat in the safari, the elephant was trying to find water to drink and cool himself off … 

Participants in this year's Nannies' Fairy Tale Writing Workshop join lead instructor Fadwa Abbas on stage after their final reading.
(Gregg Richards, Brooklyn Public Library)

Krissa Corbett Cavouras On a Saturday morning, about a dozen women gathered in the kids’ programming room. A lot of these women had been to this room before, but it was for kids programs, and this was an event just for them.

Student Hippo said, “I don’t have water or know where there’s any …”

Felicia I wrote a fable about a cat and a dog, and the moral of the fable was money isn’t everything. So, there’s a comparison in the life of the cat and the life of the dog.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras That’s Felicia, one of the participants in the workshop. And, with the rest of her classmates, Felicia read her story aloud and got feedback for it. And she said that part can be pretty nerve-wracking.

Felicia I guess like overall this whole process is like me trying to be more out of the box that I put myself in. So to be more outgoing. Like reading it with this group of ladies, it’s been a good process for me.

Adwoa Adusei During this ten-week workshop series, Fadwa guides the students through different genres of stories for kids: fables, origin stories, fairy tales, and they write their own stories, too, based on prompts that Fadwa gives out. Participants can go in any direction with their writing. They might tell a modern, updated fairy tale or they might retell a fable from their own cultures and put a spin on it. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Right, and Fadwa mentioned that the fact that there are so many cultures and languages represented in the class is what makes the workshop really unique.

Fadwa Abbas What attracted me to the class was I knew it was going to be composed of largely immigrants. And, I am an immigrant myself and so what it meant for me—and that’s what made it attractive—was that I was going to be in a room full of—and I predicted correctly, mostly women—who were bringing a wealth of experience and life and storytelling and critiques of all kinds of stuff from all over the place. And that’s always a very exciting environment for me to be in.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Fadwa makes sure that her program is designed to bring in stories from cultures all around the world, but for a lot of the participants, the inspiration is coming closer to home, as it did for Gerri, another participant in the writing workshop.

Gerri I’m working on a  story that illustrates the Pre-K process in New York City. It’s crocodile and tiger mom and it is very … it’s humorous, but it also reflects how competitive it is in New York City to get your child into an independent school, and this Pre-K program, and what parents will do at any length to get their kids into a school.

Adwoa Adusei I want to read that! The range of stories in this class is pretty impressive. At the end of the ten-week session, students get up on a stage and read their stories for an audience of their friends, family, and often the kids they care for. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras It’s an exciting celebration to end the workshop, but it’s not just about the final product. For Gerri, writing is also a way to process things that are going on in her life.

Gerri I had a life changing event, an illness where I experienced a milk stroke. At the time I was working in corporate America, a very high-pressured job, been doing that for 30 years and I decided I wanted to do something that I truly enjoy. And what that is is what I’m doing now, caring for children. But writing really gives me an opportunity to think through some of my interactions with the kids. If a child is having separation anxiety, there’s a story I can make up and talk to them about it so they don’t feel it’s really related to them even though it is. And they can then relate to the character and realize that you’re not the only one who misses their mom.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Diana Rojas—the participant who works for a family in Westchester—she also uses storytelling in her work with kids, and Diana sees the fairy tale itself as teaching tool.

Diana Rojas I love to tell my kids stories. I want to erase the concept of having a princess in the fairy tale, and I want to do a story based on a real kid from a real world with real parents and real problems.

Adwoa Adusei The Fairy Tale Writing Workshop has been running for several years at the library. So far, 170 caregivers have graduated from the program. And listeners should know that the fairy tale workshops are ongoing! So if you’re a caregiver in the area, whether you’re a grandparent or a family member, please check out our website for information about the next session.

A rapt audience at the final presentation of the Nannies' Fairy Tale Writing Workshop at Central Library.
(Gregg Richards, Brooklyn Public Library)

Krissa Corbett Cavouras And now it’s time for our BookMatch segment. So, here to recommend a few books for us is librarian Emily Heath. Welcome to Borrowed, Emily!

Emily Heath Thank you, I’m delighted to be here.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Tell us about the books you brought for us. 

Emily Heath So I brought three. I brought an adult book, a middle grade book and a picture book. So I had a really tough time picking a picture book fairy tale re-telling because there are a million of them and there are so many wonderful ones. But the one that I had to land on in the end was called After the Fall by Dan Santat and it’s the Humpty Dumpty story and it’s the story of what happens if Humpty Dumpty actually did survive the fall but couldn’t deal with life afterward. So he’s kind of traumatized by this fall that’s happened to him. He used to love climbing up on the wall, watching the birds, being near the sky. After the fall, everything has changed. And gradually, he begins the process of healing and ventures back up onto the wall. And something shocking happens. And I don’t want to spoil it for you but I have to say this is one of the more shocking things I’ve ever seen happen in a picture book and it always makes the Kindergarten kids gasp when it happens. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras I love that. So that was After the Fall by Dan Santat. And what’s your middle grade book?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras My middle grade book is called The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. It’s a retelling of a Haitian story, very loosely based on a Haitian folktale, The Magic Orange Tree. And she’s infused it with a few of the elements of Cinderella and a lot of local folklore from her native Trinidad. She grew up on the tales of the jumbies, who were these spirits who lived in the forest and they took all different kinds of shapes. And they’re terrifying. There’s the douen who are the little child-like creatures who call to you from the forest and maybe they sound like your mom and dad and so you follow them into the forrest. So Tracey Baptiste grew up on these stories but she never found any of them on the shelves of the library. And so she decided to tell her own version of it.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras I love that too because that age range, the high fantasy. 

Emily Heath Yeah it’s like scary fantasy, it’s not too scary, not too terrifying but it’s great for fantasy lovers.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras And you said you had a grown-up one?

Emily Heath I do, yes. My favorite re-teller of fairy tales for adults is Helen Oyeyemi. And she has several novels that are very innovative and take on kind of these strange and challenging re-tellings of fairy tales. But my favorite of them is Mr. Fox, which is very loosely based on the Bluebeard story. So it’s the story of a male novelist, Syngyn Fox, and he encounters one day in his office, his muse, who is a young woman named Mary Fox. She’s maybe fictional, she’s maybe alive, but she comes into his office and decides to take him to task for all the violence that he’s inflicted on the female characters in his stories. Mary ends up challenging Mr. Fox to a storytelling duel in which they chase each other in and out of each others’ stories, they turn the tables on each other every time they meet. It’s a challenging read, this is not like a linear story where you have a beginning, middle and an end, so if you’re up for something a little unconventional and challenging, it’s a really playful, thought-provoking experience for a read.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras I love that. Okay so the middle grade book was The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste and this is Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. Well thank you so much, Emily!

Emily Heath Thank you.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Borrowed is brought to you by Brooklyn Public Library and is hosted by me, Krissa Corbett Cavouras and Adwoa Adusei. You can find a transcript of this episode at our website: bklynlibrary [dot] org [slash] podcasts. as well as a link to the BookMatch list gathered by Emily Heath.

Adwoa Adusei Borrowed is produced and written by Virginia Marshall, with help from Fritzi Bodenheimer, Jennifer Proffitt, Meryl Friedman and Robin Lester Kenton. Our music composer is Billy Libby.  

Krissa Corbett Cavouras We are recording from Central Library’s Information Commons Recording studio. And guess what, if you have a BPL library card, you can reserve time here too and make your own podcast. Borrowed will be back in two weeks. 

Adwoa Adusei And, since you made it all the way to the end of the episode and you’re still listening, here’s a bonus from Somaya and Gabriel.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras We asked them if they could do anything to the library to make it cooler and more fun what they would do… and both girls wanted to live in the library …

Somaya Watson I would make it my house. So I would have a bedroom and then this whole Tech Loft would be my place to play. And then I have a kitchen. I would use the youth wing up there as a guest room. 

Gabriel Hibbert Yeah, and then I’ll still have the people at the cafe working here so I could get food and I’ll get food for free and I’ll still pay them because I’ll be rich. We could have a jacuzzi!

Somaya Watson Yeah!

Gabriel Hibbert And we could invite all our friends over. And we could have like big parties. We can even invite Meghan Trainor!

Somaya Watson We can invite Cardi B.

Adwoa Adusei So, Meghan and Cardi, if you’re listening, consider this a formal invitation.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Yeah that’s right, you’re welcome anytime at BPL.

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