COLUMN: Storytime at Zoey’s Floating Library

Christine McCarriston

For some people, summer means sand in the toes and a good book on the lap. Many of us have a list of books we hope to read this summer, but I’m guessing “Pete the Cat at the Beach” is not at the top of those lists. Thanks to our family’s favorite 6-year-old, it skyrocketed to the top of mine.

On a recent vacation with family, our soon-to-be first-grader grabbed her very large pile of books (she doesn’t go anywhere without books) and sat with her feet in the pool, beckoning the eight of us in and around the pool to listen to her read. We didn’t make a splash as she read each word with intonation, displayed the illustrations for all to see, and carefully turned the pages of Pete’s adventure.

Storytime at Zoey’s Floating Library was in session, and none of us — ages 21 to 82 — wanted to be anywhere else. Those of us in the pool grabbed floats and hung by her feet. Those sitting around the pool hung on her every word. She was as focused as the best children’s librarian and serious about library rules: No talking while she was reading. Pete’s story would not be interrupted. 

Witnessing children learn to read has always been one of my favorite things. I am a language development coach, a writer and a former school librarian, so of course learning and words are integral in my life.

To me, it seems like a child’s world opens wider and brighter when they are learning to read the words around them. Their faces change as they navigate the written world, from seriously focusing on the letters and words to smiling when they figure out what those letters and words say and mean.

At first, new readers sound out much of what they see. That doesn’t always work in the English language (see: “through,” “write,” “calm,” “because”… and so on), but boy do they try! As they learn their “sight words” (words that must be learned by sight and memorized as they follow no phonics pattern), you can’t help but be impressed with their reading growth. It truly is something amazing to witness.

Zoey’s kindergarten teacher taught her students to read everything everywhere. She certainly paid close attention to this lesson. I celebrate new reading every time I am lucky enough to observe it, stopping and watching confidence rise as new words are conquered. Floating Storytime added something more to my excitement over Zoey’s reading milestones. 

As she read James Dean’s story of Pete being afraid to surf but not giving up, I couldn’t help but see this experience as one of life’s gifts — one of those unplanned happy moments we come to treasure.

Zoey’s captive audience was made up of her mama and her seven aunties. There was no announcement made about story time happening. She simply took her place on the pool stairs and started reading aloud. We all stopped our conversations and listened. We knew we were about to hear the best summer reading of 2023.

I loved watching Zoey successfully navigate the words in the book, of course, but I was struck by how important we all instantly knew this was to her. A read-aloud isn’t as fun if no one is listening.

We also knew it was a bonus for us, having time to just sit or float, be in the moment and give our attention to Zoey and Pete.

The best part of summer is often using the longer days to do more of the things you want to do and haven’t had time to do during the busier months. Those minutes spent doing what’s not on your to-do list often become the most important and make the best memories. 

While doing my adult summer reading of “Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman (I highly recommend it), I came across a couple of lines that sum up our feelings during Zoey’s Floating Storytime: “Have you ever held a 3-year-old by the hand on the way home from preschool? You’re never more important than you are then.”

Being an attentive audience while learning about Pete’s beach adventures made us important to Zoey and showed her how important she is to us. It was definitely one of the joys of summer.

Marblehead resident Christine McCarriston is a former local reporter and editor of the Lynn Sunday Post who now works as an English language development coach for the Lynn Public Schools. She is also the author of a children’s book, “Jenna’s Troublesome Tooth.”

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