Celebrating Sue Warner: All In For Kids & Reading

Since 1992, Sue Warner has served as the Head of Youth Services. A Kalamazoo native, Sue holds a bachelors degree in English Literature from Indiana University and her MA in Library Science from the University of Michigan. Sue first worked at Kalamazoo Public Library (KPL) as a Student Assistant from 1976-1977. She returned as a Children’s Librarian in 1988, stepping into Head of Youth Services four years later.

Sue Warner is a quiet leader in a world that too often confuses loudness with leadership. A listener, a doer, and a thinker, Sue exhibits a quiet and steady leadership. Over the years, she has brought these qualities (and more) along with her impressive grasp of children’s literature and understanding of child development to her work with the Kalamazoo Public Library. Our partnership with KPL and the children we serve throughout the Kalamazoo Public Schools have benefited from her wisdom and leadership. We will miss her when she retires at the end of this month.

We met up (virtually) with Sue during this pandemic to get her thoughts on books (of course!), retirement, and more.

First off, how are you holding up during this pandemic? 

As an introvert, home is my favorite place, so I’m doing okay.

What are you learning about yourself and/or the world in all this? 

I’m reminded that the people who are helpers are still stepping up and taking care of others without looking for attention or recognition; while those who are always seeking the spotlight are using this as a chance to try to be the loudest voices. We always need to look for the helpers and support them.

When it comes to supporting our young people and their families, you and KPL are such an extraordinary partner. We can always count on you to help us keep kids in school and succeed in both school and life. Any thoughts you want to share regarding this longstanding partnership? 

I love partnering with CIS! You guys are the best because you put kids first every day, look to community partners to help, and welcome volunteers to make the one-on-one connections kids that are so critical. Personally, I loved my four years as a tutor with three kids at Parkwood-Upjohn Elementary. The staff at KPL always works together in the fall to collect school supplies to donate the CIS Kids’ Closet. Also, I enjoyed helping my friend Millie, who lives in Texas, when she decided to knit mittens to send to Michigan kids and CIS was willing to distribute them to kids in our community. [Millie’s Mittens post can be found here.] When organizations have a partnership such as ours, the most important part, though, is the personal relationships that staff have . . . we have to know and trust each other in order for the work to be successful.

Sue (far right) back in 2013 when Kalamazoo Public Library hosted Walter Dean Myers during his “Reading is Not Optional” tour. Also pictured (from left): Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, and Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan. This photo originally ran in the 2013 CIS post, “Finding Words in Your Pockets.”

You and KPL do such wonderful and innovative programming. One of those which is close to your heart is The Late Show, in which you have volunteers read aloud books over the PA system during bedtime to young people residing at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. Can you share with us a bit more about that program? and the power of reading aloud to young people

Now in its 27th year, the Late Show is a bedtime reading program on 2 or 3 nights a week at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home. The purpose of the program is to bring a send of calm and comfort to residents at bedtime by reading aloud to them, and to expose students to well-written literature. My first experience with the program was as a volunteer reader, recruited by my friend Ruth Heinig, from WMU. Later, Ruth recruited me to take over from her as the selector of the readings. Now, KPL is the institutional home for the program and we do it all . . . recruit new readers, schedule the readers, select and send out the readings for the week, etc.  We also work with the Juvenile Home to bring visiting teen authors there for author visits, and support other community volunteers who run weekly Book Club discussion groups at the Juvenile Home. Our mission is to support books and reading for these teens who are not currently able to visit the library.

Over the years, you have probably seen changes in the way the way children and families experience the library. Can you speak a little bit about those changes or trends that you’ve noticed?

When I was first starting out as a Children’s Librarian, it was mostly mothers bringing children to the library to check out books and come to storytime. Now we have so many dads, grandparents, and nannies as well as moms. We also offer so many more programs for kids of all ages. We are also seen as a community play space with age-appropriate toys, computers for kids with not only internet access but also educational games and other resources. We have parenting books and magazines in the Children’s Room, community resources about early education and care. The library is now a destination for families to visit and spend time together, not just dash in and leave; families are staying for a long time!

What tips would you give parents who are trying to find just the right book(s) for their young children? 

Let your child choose some of their own books; it’s never too early to learn about making choices; and ask the librarian for help finding things. We have a lot of good ideas!

What children’s book that has been around for quite a while, in your opinion, has stood the test of time?

I never tire of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

What children’s book (or children’s author) has flown under the radar and deserves a wider audience? 

Elisha Cooper’s books are wonderful. His Beaver is Lost and A Good Night Walk are favorites at my house right now.

Is there a children’s book that is over-rated, one that has been touted and received inexplicably positive press? 

Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch.

When you were a child, what was your favorite book? 

According to my mom, The Cat in the Hat. She had to periodically “lose” it. She despised it, but I’m still rather fond of it. Mom read to us so much; it paid off as my brothers and I are all readers today.

What are you currently reading? 

Kindest Regards by Ted Kooser and Tiny Love: The Complete Stories by Larry Brown.

What is your favorite word or phrase right now?

It will be fine; have a cookie.

When we re-emerge from this pandemic, where is one of the first places you will go? 

Bookbug for me and Oval Beach in Saugatuck for my husband.

What do you think you will miss most about your job once you retire? 

Working with kids and their families every day; it’s so meaningful to help someone find a book they will love, or to encourage a new parent to read with a newborn, or to help a teacher find books to enhance their lessons. Sitting on the floor to read and sing with kids can make the administrative work tolerable some days.

Fred Rogers said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” As someone on the cusp of retirement, what will you be stepping into and beginning during this next phase of your life? 

Most immediately, providing care for my youngest grandkids this summer; after that, probably looking for a volunteer opportunity in the community where I can work with kids.

Thank you, Sue, for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000+ Kids.

Note: The Kalamazoo Public Library has missed you! The library will be opening on June 22 with limited hours and service. Face covers will be required for entry. Find out what you can expect when you visit by learning details here.

Millie’s Mittens

There is always a good reason not to give. We don’t have enough time or money or time. We think somebody else will step up or do a better job than us. The list goes on.

Millie Ellis has more than her fair share of reasons not to extend herself, particularly to kids in Kalamazoo. That’s because Millie lives 2,000 miles away, in Dripping Springs, Texas.

There, she is busy caring for her husband who recently suffered a stroke. She is also dealing with her own health issues. Yet, despite distance and her current struggles, Kalamazoo kids are on her radar.

She learned from her friend, Shirley Street, that during the cold Michigan winters, some kids didn’t have mittens to keep their hands warm. Shirley told her of the need and that, for the third year in a row, she was doing something about this by knitting mittens. Her mittens would go to CIS Kids’ Closet and from there, CIS staff in 20 Kalamazoo Public Schools would be providing them to students who needed mittens.

Shirley knew about the need thanks to her daughter, Sue Warner, who lives in Kalamazoo. A long-time CIS friend, volunteer, and partner, Sue is Kalamazoo Public Library’s Head Librarian of Youth Services. Sue Warner is a knitter too, and has been knitting mittens and hats for Kalamazoo kids over the years.

Back to Texas. When Shirley shared with Millie how she was helping kids in Kalamazoo Public Schools, Millie was moved. She wanted to figure out a way to “help those kids in Michigan,” too. The next time the friends connected, Millie said, “I found some yarn. I’m going to knit some mittens, too.” And she did.

When a box from Texas (mailed by Millie) showed up at Sue’s door, Sue was stunned. “I thought she might have managed to knit a few pairs of mittens, but Millie had knit 52 pairs!”

Some of Millie’s mittens

Sue dropped off the load of mittens, made with love from Texas, and some of the CIS staff tried on a few.

CIS staff modeling Millie’s mittens. (From left): John Oliver, Director of Quality & Evaluation, John Brandon, Partner Services Coordinator, Alonzo Demand, Human Resources Coordinator, and Michael Harrison, Associate Director of Site Services

Knitters make something beautiful—in this case mittens—by interlocking loops of one or more yarns. To knit is “to join closely and firmly, as members or parts (often followed by together).” Despite her own hardships, Millie made it her mission to make the lives of kids a bit better and a bit warmer this winter. Millie joined with Shirley, who connected with Sue who connected with CIS, who now gets these mittens into the hands of children.

Thank you, Millie. And thank you Shirley, Sue, and all you knitters (and non-knitters, too!) who join together with CIS to create a caring, loving community for our children.

 

Finding Words in Your Pockets

(From Left) Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan, Sue Warner
(From Left) Dr. Michael F. Rice, Walter Dean Myers, Dr. Zaheerah Shakir Khan, Sue Warner

Last week, the Kalamazoo Public Library introduced kids and grownups alike to Walter Dean Myers as part of his “Reading is Not Optional” tour sponsored by the Library of Congress, the Children’s Book Council and the Every Child a Reader Foundation.

What a treat! It’s not everyday you have a chance to meet the national ambassador for young people’s literature. A prolific and award-winning author, Mr. Myers is the third person appointed to this post since it was created in 2008. In honor of his visit, KPL put one of his quotes—“Reading is not an option” on a bunch of buttons. Very cool.

On Wednesday, I attended a breakfast/talk hosted at the library. It quickly became clear that Mr. Myers, considered by many to be one of the most important writers in children’s books, is the kind of man who calls things like he sees them. A tall man, Mr. Myers is funny, bright, and spirited. He has an uncommon knack for appearing to be laid back and feisty all at once. I was expecting Mr. Myers to read some of his work, throw out a few interested tidbits and then be on his way.

He didn’t do this. He didn’t read any of his work and what he said was not what I expected to hear. One of the first words out of his mouth was “poverty.” When Mr. Myers talks about poverty, he isn’t talking about economics. He is referring to, “pockets of language poverty” that our children experience. Anyone who works with kids these days knows that too many of our children are growing up with not only a scarcity of food and lack of sufficient housing, but also, a dearth of words.

Some researchers have even taken the time to document this “pockets of language poverty.” Every hour, a child growing up in poverty is exposed to 1,500 less words than a child who is not being raised in poverty. This means that by the time the poor child is four years old, he or she is behind by 32 million words. This word deficit is mind-boggling. It makes the heart heavy to think about all the children who have deep pockets from which they pull out nothing.

“Literacy is a tool all kids need,” Mr. Myers said. “Either you read or you suffer,” he said. “A child will pay the penalty for a lack of literacy throughout their life.”  These aren’t warm and fuzzy statements to make and Mr. Myers knows it. But he is the kind of person who, from what I could tell, calls it like he sees it. “I’m an old black man. I can say whatever I want,” he told the audience. We laughed but we know his comments are true and need to be spoken aloud. Mr. Meyers is serving our nation well as an ambassador, for we too will pay the penalty for every child we fail to reach.

The good news is that our kids here are part of a community that has committed itself to being the education community. Together, as parents, community partners and educators we are filling the pockets of language. These pockets are deep. It is not a matter of simply tucking a word in here and there. To be successful, we must, asSuperintendent Dr. Michael Rice says, have a “drumbeat of literacy.” For the sake of all our children it’s time for all of us to play, and play hard.

Have you picked up your drumsticks, lately?

Want to know more about Walter Dean Myers? Check out his NPR interview here. And if you missed local coverage of his visit, check out Erin Gignac’s article here on MLive.

Reading is not optional