“If you can’t read, what else can you do?”

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November 7th, 2011

Omaha, NE – A family reading program is wrapping up for the year at the Omaha Public Libraries. Prime Time introduces kids to books, helping to foster of love of reading, and give families a chance to interact and come together.

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“Good morning Carlos, would you like hash browns?” Eustacia Moss cheerfully handed out hash browns to parents and kids at the Charles B. Washington Branch library in North Omaha on Saturday. Before story time got underway, families sat together and ate breakfast.

Michaela Johnson has attended the Prime Time reading program for two years. Her mother, Sharon Johnson, say s she loves to learn new words. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

“I’m a very fond believer in giving back to the community,” Moss said. “I try to get as many people to come as possible. I feel like I’m doing my part in helping get the community to be more connected to one another.”

Moss has two children of her own who volunteer and participate in the six-week reading program. She says they enjoy it, and it’s helped their reading in school, where they’re both advanced readers.

“It’s important for our children to be literate,” Moss said. “Very important. If you can’t read or comprehend what it is that you’re reading, then there’s going to be so many more obstacles in life that they’re going to have to cross.”

“Good morning!” said Janice Collins-Brooks to a chorus of “goooood mooooorning” in reply. Collins-Brooks is a volunteer storyteller at the library. Each week, she reads from a new book to dozen or so kids sitting before her, legs-crossed, on the carpet.

“All right. This is a Nigerian folktale. How many of you know where Nigeria is?” she asked, as a few hands shot up. “It’s in Africa,” one of the kids politely called out.

Maurice Patterson was also in the audience. He brought his two daughters to the library. They’re sitting in front of him, as Ms. Janice – as the kids call her – prepares the story. Patterson said reading is a staple of all children’s education. And going to the library on Saturdays is a tradition his mother began in his family, he said, and one he wants to continue.

“We as parents have to get involved and not just rely on teachers to do it,” Patterson said. “And then they come home and we don’t do anything; that just breaks the cycle.”

Patterson said he thinks more library programs, and more funding to support them, would be helpful. “We used to do puppet shows; we used to do a lot of different things at the library.”

Storyteller Janice Collins-Brooks (left) reads from the Nigerian folktale, "Why the Sky is Far Away." (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

Gary Wasdin is the Executive Director of Omaha Public Libraries. He said it’s essential to get kids hooked on reading at an early age. And he said while the program, which is sponsored by the Nebraska Humanities Council, gets parents and kids involved in a positive activity, it also brings them into the library, which has so much more to offer.

“A lot of it hinges around how we identify the role of the public library, in a city in a community today,” Wasdin said. “So many of us, we think about books, because books are an important part of what we do, and they’re a very visible part of the libraries… but that was really never all that libraries were about.”

Wasdin said, “Public libraries in particular were always that community meeting spot, that place of both learning and entertainment. So they’ve always been a hub of activity.”

Back at story time, the kids listen to Ms. Janice intently as the story begins, flipping through the pages of words and brightly painted pictures. “In the beginning, the sky was very close to the earth,” Collins-Brooks read, “Children did not have to carry water, anybody who was hungry, took a piece of sky and ate it. It was a delicious”

Each week the story has a theme. This week it’s a lesson about appreciating what you have, and not being wasteful. Collins-Brooks said the stories carry over to the children’s education at school, and their lives.

“Oh, reading is so important,” she said. “If you can’t read, what else can you do?”

The Prime Time reading program will continue Monday, Nov. 7 and Nov. 14 at the South Omaha Library, and Saturday, Nov. 12 and Nov. 19 at the Charles B. Washington branch in north Omaha. The Nebraska Humanities Council hopes to expand the program to more libraries around the city soon.

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