The Wrenshall School library has been a little empty during distance learning, but thanks to the efforts of a new media assistant students still have access to the school's diverse array of books.
Chloe Swanson, a 2015 Wrenshall graduate, started working as a media assistant in the library when distance learning for most students started this fall. Swanson and the library specialist — older sister Ellie Swanson — started to think of ways to keep getting books into children's hands while the COVID-19 pandemic keeps them out of the library.
“What we wanted to see happen was our students getting books, not necessarily for class, but something they could read for entertainment or as an escape, because that’s certainly what I’ve been doing,” Swanson said. “I thought we could do book delivery since we’re already doing academic delivery, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the bus drivers.”
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Instead, Swanson started delivering packages of up to five books every Tuesday to families who have signed up for the program. When a student signs up, Swanson said she has parents or students fill out a short form to help her learn a little about each participant and try to pick books suited toward their interests. Then she picks out a selection of books, wipes each down with sanitizer and packages them in plastic bags for delivery.
Swanson also includes a form for students to comment or rate the books they just read to better inform her choices with subsequent deliveries. Even if the student didn’t like the book or rated it poorly, she said she uses the information to help her avoid certain picks when she sends new titles out.
The thrill of turning Wrenshall students on to new books and series is one of the best parts of the job, according to Swanson.
“I love talking about books and reading — it’s the best,” she said. “I got to introduce a girl to 'The Hunger Games’ and she was like, ‘This is the best book ever.’ I was just so excited because I remember what it felt like to be a kid and be excited by books.”
Parent Kristy Ankrum is a big fan of the book deliveries. She didn’t even realize her daughter — Kiara, a sixth grader — had signed up when the first pack of books was delivered, but she said it’s become a weekly event.
“It’s been exciting for her to get the books, and now she is running to the mailbox on Tuesdays,” Ankrum said.
Kiara, however, was already a voracious reader. Swanson’s choices have drawn in Ankrum's 14-year-old son, Patrick, too. Ankrum said she had a tougher time getting her eighth grade son to read for fun, until Swanson sent “Patina,” the second in the “Track” series by Jason Reynolds.
Patrick had read the first book and really liked it, but had trouble finding the second book in the series, something Swanson took care of.
“Patrick was so excited he said, ‘I’ve read this book, I love this series,’” Ankrum said. “She hit it right on the head, and then we were able to ask if it was possible to get the next one. She sent both of them, and he’s plowing through them now and really liking it.”
Swanson said she hopes she can do for students what former librarian Kathy Dugdale did for her when she was young. Dugdale regularly set up author talks and book signings at Wrenshall, something that really stuck with Swanson.
“I thought that was so magical,” she said.
Swanson also pointed to her kindergarten teacher Sheri Fossen, now a Title I teacher, for helping develop her love of reading. When Fossen read the first chapter of “My Father’s Dragon” by Ruth Stiles Gannett to her students, that was a turning point for Swanson.
“I was hooked. I was like, ‘Whoa, I had no idea stories could be like this,’” she said. “I went home and begged my parents to go to Barnes & Noble to get the book because I couldn’t wait to finish it. That was the first book I remember getting and it was just such a special experience.”
Those first experiences with reading and her experiences at the library instilled a love of books in Swanson and a desire to share it with others.
Swanson said her favorite books currently are the “Throne of Glass” series by Sarah Maas, and in nonfiction, she loves “Cleopatra: A Life” by Stacy Schiff.
“Reading always felt like such an escape,” Swanson said. “I’ve said that a lot, but it really was and you learn compassion, empathy, and then from nonfiction you can learn so much as well. I just think (books are) great.”