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Librarian's story hour has been a best seller with kids for 31 years
BY DAVID HOLSTED SVN REPORTER firstname.lastname@example.org
STERLING - Miss Anita settled into her rocking chair, the one that featured pictures of The Cat in the Hat, Curious George, Tigger and other beloved characters from children's literature, and greeted her little friends as they made their way into the room.
The wiggly and squirming 3- to 5-year-olds sat down on the floor, many careful to keep Mom in close range. A few of the braver ones, though, sat down right in front of Miss Anita's chair.
In all, 20 kids, accompanied by 10 mothers and grandmothers, had come to the Sterling Public Library to hear Miss Anita, the children's librarian, read. It's become a 31-year tradition at the library, and a second generation has begun listening to her stories.
"It's been a fun trip," said Miss Anita, also known as Anita Elgin. "I'm not ready to end it."
With Thanksgiving just days away, Miss Anita began the hour by asking her young audience about turkeys. What did they know about them?
In small, shy voices, the answers came.
"They have orange feet?" said Miss Anita, repeating an answer. "Some do."
They have feathers! They have wings!
"Do you know what that red thing is?" Miss Anita asked the children. "A wattle. That's a weird word, isn't it?"
Miss Anita shared a story about turkeys with her audience. When she was young and living on a farm, her brother used to tease the tom turkeys. One day, as she and her brother were getting onto the school bus, a tom turkey followed them.
"We had a substitute bus driver that day," Miss Anita said. "I thought we were going to lose her. She got right up on the seat. She never subbed for us again."
Miss Anita picked up a book, "Silly Tilly's Thanksgiving Dinner," and began to read, holding up the book so the kids could see the pictures.
According to Miss Anita, she was studying elementary education in college when she decided to take a year off. She learned that the Sterling library was looking for a full-time library clerk. When she inquired about the job, she was asked if she could start in a week.
The position of children's librarian gradually fell upon Miss Anita. Although she gears her storytime to preschoolers, no child is turned away, she said. Sometimes, school-aged children, former Miss Anita kids, have shown up on days when there's no school.
"Kids were my thing," she said.
Miss Anita has been laughing and joking with little people ever since.
"Not everyone can say 'I love my job' after 31 years," she said. "When it becomes work, I'll think about (quitting)."
Miss Anita picked up another book, "Off to Plymouth Rock," and asked the children if they had learned anything about the Pilgrims.
As she read the story of the people who came to America to worship as they pleased, Miss Anita pointed out the pictures and explained to her audience the hardships the Pilgrims had to endure when they made their new home in America. A small boy rested on his knees, just inches away, his head tilted back to look at her as he intently listened to the story.
Although Miss Anita has spent three decades reading and telling stories to kids, on Nov. 12, something happened that left her speechless. In fact, her brother said it was one of the few times in her life that she could not say a word.
Miss Anita had come to the library for a special story time to kick off National Children's Book Week. She noticed that Sterling mayor Ted Aggen was there, but didn't think anything of it. When Sterling Library Board President Tim Zollinger called the mayor to the front of the room, though, Miss Anita knew something was up.
Aggen proclaimed Nov. 12 Anita Elgin Day in Sterling, and she was presented with her special rocker.
Between stories, Miss Anita got into some audience participation.
"The turkey is a funny bird. His head goes wobble, wobble, wobble," said Miss Anita, wagging her head back and forth. "He can say only one word, and that is 'gobble, gobble, gobble.'"
A few repetitions and soon small heads were gently wobbling and soft voices whispering, "Gobble, gobble, gobble."
Miss Anita's rocking chair was bought in an antique store, and painted by Patty Yde of Sterling. Although she has lived in Sterling for only a couple of years, Yde's children attend Miss Anita's story hours.
"I've heard so many wonderful memories of Anita," Yde said.
In addition to the more well-known children's book characters, the chair features two of Miss Anita's favorite characters - the Old Black Fly and the Wide-Mouthed Frog. Additionally, the whimsical chair features such things as beads and an inscription that runs all the way around the seat and says, "Thank you for the numerous times you've read our children nursery rhymes. You story tell from year to year, we're just so glad you're here."
Miss Anita continued the story hour with "Happy Thanksgiving, Biscuit," the story of a mischievous puppy. Then it was "Thanks for Thanksgiving."
"You've got to watch the pictures, because there's a lot going on," Miss Anita told her audience.
Miss Anita, who lives in Tampico, has three daughters of her own, and she read to them when they were small. According to Miss Anita, one of the most important things parents can do for their children is to read to them.
"If a parent takes just 10 minutes to read to his or her child, we can revolutionize the world," Miss Anita said.
Among the benefits of reading to a child, she went on to say, are better reading skills, better writing skills, better communication skills and better grammar skills.
Miss Anita's kids ended the hour by making turkeys out of construction paper. Small hands held out variations of the bird for her critique. There were hugs and "Thank yous" as the children donned coats and made their way out.
Miss Anita leaned over to examine a small girl's handiwork.
"Don't eat too much turkey," Miss Anita said, a serious expression on her face. "You'll start to gobble."
With wide-eyed amazement, the girl stared up at Miss Anita.
Miss Anita then broke into laughter and gave the girl a little hug.
Reach David Holsted at 625-3600 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 525.