Washougal librarians share their love of reading with students

A passion for books

Contributed photo Washougal elementary school librarians are happiest when surrounded by books. They are (back row, left to right): Marlene Leifsen and Tammy Asbjornsen, (front row, left to right): Holly Vonderohe and Kathy Stanton.

A Chinese proverb says that ‘A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.’

And planting those love-of-reading seeds is the goal of librarians at Washougal elementary schools.

Recently, they got together in a Professional Learning Community meeting to discuss streamlining teacher book needs to support common core curriculum, managing and maintaining the volumes of books on their shelves, the emergence of e-books and e-readers, and ways to engage young students while nurturing a love of books and reading.

Marlene Leifsen, Gause Elementary librarian, has always loved books. When her young children became school-aged, she found work at the Washougal High School library so their schedules would align. That was nearly 30 years ago.

“When I started I worked with Ellie McCallum (former librarian). She was wonderful. She taught me so much,” Leifsen said. “At the high school level, much of the focus is to help students with research, but she taught me that there was much more to do.

“When a student wanted to talk to you, you should stop everything and talk with them,” she explained. “Everyone needs a connection, and that is what we could do for many of our students. I’ve tried to remember that even at the elementary level.”

Holly Vonderohe and Tammy Asbjorsen work together at Cape Horn-Skye Elementary and Canyon Creek Middle School, in a combined library facility.

Vonderohe has been working in Washougal school libraries for nine years. Her favorite part of the elementary work is what is called “Book Talk.” She reads short, 10-minute excerpts for various books, hoping to stir student interest.

“It is really a great way to introduce them to a variety of books,” she said. “When I see a student choosing all action or all outdoor adventure stories, I try to find books to recommend that have that element in them, but is also combined with a different genre. It helps open them up to a new type of story.”

She added that a challenge in reaching middle school students is not having dedicated class time with them. Students must enter the library on their own, or be drawn in by some of the activities Vonderohe devises.

“One year our book club made butt pillows with old jeans,” she said. “I brought in my sewing machine and we had fabric paints and appliqués. They were really cute.”

Another time, after reading the book “Tangerine,” the group made tangerine smoothies.

Asbjornsen has always loved books, but when she was a child, she was too busy.

“I wanted to be outside and playing, not reading,” she said. “But during my senior year I had a literature class and we read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird.’ After I read that book, I could not stop.”

An approach that Asbjornsen uses is introducing stories through drama. For the past five years, she has directed fourth- and fifth-graders in short plays.

“I believe drama is a great way to get students interested in reading,” she said. “It really involves them in the words and the story.”

Her favorite part of her work at the library is reading aloud to her students.

“I really love looking out and seeing those little smiling faces and hearing them laugh,” Asbjornsen said. “My favorite books are happy, funny stories. The challenge is coming up with ways to interest the kids. Reading is so important. You can’t get anywhere in life unless you can read.”

Kathy Stanton of Hathaway Elementary has worked in libraries since the late 1970s and came to WHS in 1997. She transferred to Hathaway last February.

“I followed what I loved and this is where it led me,” she said. “I have always been addicted to stories and to reading.”

Stanton works to build student interest in the library itself. Programs such as “Adopt-a-Shelf” give students a sense of ownership in the library.

“This is for the older students and they must go through an application process and be selected to participate,” she said. “They receive an acceptance letter outlining their responsibility to keep a specific shelf in order. Their name actually appears on the shelf. It is a point of pride for them.”

Younger students get involved in the library community through the “Pick-a-Job Garden” program. Stanton has a flower pot filled with rocks and a bouquet of artificial blooms mounded on flat sticks. A library chore is written on each wooden stem. Students volunteer to line up and pick their favorite flower and get a job to do.

“Duties include dusting computer screens, straightening chairs, sharpening pencils, fluffing pillows and wiping down tables. And the kids love it.”

But her favorite part of the job is one-on-one time recommending books to students.

“It is a challenge to find that perfect book for them,” she said. “When I see that connection is made, it is like I’ve scored big time.”