Once upon a time… a columnist turned into a puddle of goo


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Grab a book and prepare to curl up on the carpet, kids, because today we are heading to the library for family storytime.

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Grab a book and prepare to curl up on the carpet, kids, because today we are heading to the library for family storytime.

As a mostly retired crusading journalist, allow me to say that if you have never attended family storytime with a gaggle of munchkin-sized toddlers, then you are missing out on 20-pounds of excitement in a 10-pound bag.

I say this because, for the past five weeks, every Tuesday my wife and I have been taking our 14-month-old granddaughter, Ivy, for storytime sessions at the Osborne Library.

It is not easy, using mere words, to describe the ambience of family storytime, but I will give it the old college try: It is kind of like a cross between a kindergarten Christmas pageant and a European soccer riot, only with considerably more drool.

The central figure, of course, is the Story Lady, who is kind of like a soccer referee, except instead of blowing a whistle to end the chaos she reads stories and sings songs in a voice so calming and soothing that we grandparents and other caregivers begin to nod off about halfway through the first book.

You will think I am exaggerating, but our Story Lady’s voice is so gentle and tranquil that, were we to send her to war-torn Ukraine, it would probably only take her five minutes to get everyone on both sides to sit down on a little carpet square and play nicely while singing the friendship song — complete with hand gestures — that kicks off every session.

Recent studies in child development and neuroscience have shown that reading books out loud to a child helps develop their reading skills long before they are able to read. But library storytime is also hugely beneficial for we parents and grandparents because it means some other adult is forced to read out loud and perform all the silly voices and sounds that modern babies and toddlers demand from a quality storyteller.

I don’t wish to brag, but my granddaughter is already a hardcore book lover. It is clear that, in her tiny toddler mind, books are incredibly delicious. I say that because whenever anyone hands her a book the first thing she typically does is try to stuff it in her mouth and gnaw her way through the pages, all of which end up liberally coated in drool.

At the library, however, eating books is frowned upon — the staff will take the words right out of your mouth, if you catch my drift — so we do our best to sit in a circle and pay attention. Ha ha ha! I am, of course, kidding around in a grandfatherly manner, because the only ones who are keen to sit down are the adults, who are exhausted because the toddlers in their care enjoy nothing more than wandering around the library room like tiny zombies intent on bouncing off the walls and pulling books and other things off the shelves.

Let me stress I am not talking here about the babies, of which there are several at our storytime sessions. The babies tend to spend most of their time lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling, before spontaneously bursting into tears to ensure their caregivers are not too deeply asleep.

I especially enjoy the four-block walk to storytime because it is my job to push the stroller, which allows Ivy and me to practise our clever wordplay.

“Dat?” Ivy will roar from the stroller, flinging her little hand out to point at some random object or creature along our route.

“That’s a tree,” I will patiently reply.

“Dat?” Ivy will chirp seconds later as her sparkling eyes focus on yet another mystery object.

“Um, that’s another tree,” Granddad Doug will explain.

It will go on and on like that until we reach the library and join in the throng of toddlers, who randomly mill about in the story room, bouncing off one another like itsy bitsy bumper cars as the Story Lady tells us about a little green Halloween monster who, all things considered, isn’t really all that scary.

Like many toddlers, my granddaughter is far more interested in looking at other children than she is in listening to someone read a story, so she enjoys waddling into the gaggle of children, standing with her back to the Story Lady, and staring into the face of some other confused toddler, then bursting into a laugh that causes her whole body to jiggle with joy.

My wife and I become a tad misty-eyed when the Story Lady invites the kids to come up to the front and remove the felt facial features from a hand-puppet version of the little green monster from the story.

Our granddaughter finally overcomes her shyness and stomps up to the front where, instead of pulling something off the hand puppet, she grabs its felt nose from the Story Lady’s lap and carefully sticks it back on the monster’s face.

“Dat?” Ivy asks.

“That’s his nose,” the Story Lady replies, gently.

Which is when I am reduced to a puddle of grandfatherly goo. On the way home, I say to my wife: “I wish we could do storytime every day … but I guess the library wouldn’t want us to OVERDUE it!”

My wife didn’t laugh, but I could hear Ivy giggling in her stroller.

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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