Meet My Local Children’s Librarian: Lois Gross

Dear Readers,

Did you know that it’s very important to make friends with your local children’s librarian?

There are sqillion of books out there, and this person can help you find what you need to read. I don’t mean need to read as in for a homework assignment, though they can do that too, but need to read as in important books that you shouldn’t miss as you’re growing up because missing one is to miss a great gift.

Besides, your librarian could turn out to be a very interesting person, and missing out on her/him, would be to miss another great gift.

Hmmm. When you think about it, we’re surrounded by great gifts everywhere — that we miss everyday :(.

Anyway, I’d like to introduce you to my own local children’s librarian . . . and hope that it inspires you to run out to your library as fast as you can, and make friends with yours.

Here she is, Lois Gross, a k a Miss Lois, at the Hoboken Public Library:IMG_8119She is as nice and friendly as she looks! And the children’s collection on the third floor is a bright and happy place. I love going there!

Born in Philadelphia, Miss Lois has lived in Colorado, Florida, and since 2008, Hoboken. She is married to Eric Gross and they have a daughter, Dayna. Often you can find her walking her dog, Mardi (as in Mardi Gras), in Columbus Park. This is Mardi: 484530_3961216282073_347523718_n

He’s a rescue cotton ball, a “poochon” poodle and bison, I mean bichon frise. LOVE!

LL: Thank you, Miss Lois, for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. What inspired you to become a children’s librarian?

LG: Being a children’s librarian sort of found me rather than the other way around. I’ve been a librarian for 40 years. When I went back to work after having my daughter, I started working for the Aurora (Colorado) Public Library and sort of landed in children’s. It wasn’t exactly a choice.  It just happened.  Serendipity.  It was a good fit.  I loved the creative aspects of it, and the storytelling.

LL: Do you have to be super-smart to be a librarian?

LG: I think you have to be smart to do any job well.  I do have a Masters’ Degree in Library and Information Science which means I went to school for an extra year to learn about being a librarian.  I have a very good memory and I think that’s important to my job, especially when I have to remember, out of the thousands of books I’ve read which would be best for a young reader.  I always liked the fact that people think librarians are smart and that we know everything!  I don’t know everything, but I certainly know where to look it up. “Ask a librarian: the best search engine.”

LL: What kind of qualities should you have if you want to become a librarian?

LG: To be a librarian, you need patience.  I’m not good at that.  I need an answer NOW.  You need curiosity.  That’s a given.  I always want to know about new things and I’m able to find things in books.  I just read a book about dolphins that were rescued after Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi.  In the book, the author talks about how dolphins used to be land animals and have residual bits of legs in their skeletons.  I never knew that! I never would have known that if I hadn’t been reviewing the book about dolphins.  Cool, huh?

LL: Very cool! What was your favorite book when you were a child?

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Miss Lois, center, with sisters Phyllis (left) and Annette.

LG: When I was a very young child, I’d have to say that my favorite book was probably MADELINE by Ludwig Bemelmans.  I still use that in story time and I can still recite most of it from memory.  We didn’t have a lot of books in our house, and most were hand-me-downs from my sisters. There was a copy of Disney’s “Cinderella” that I loved for the picture of her blue ball gown.  We also had a copy of A.A. Milne’s poetry collection, WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG, that I could recite from memory.

LL:  What kind of books did you like to read then? And what kinds of books do you like now?

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“I’m the chubby one at the end of the third row.” — Miss Lois.

LG:  I read anything about theatre, including lots of plays.  I really wanted to be an actress, and took drama lessons and starred in plays at school.  There was a series of books called, THEATER SHOES by Noel Streatfield that I loved and read over and over.   I am Jewish, and I used to read books about Judaism and Jewish people.  My parents didn’t belong to a synagogue and I was so curious about our religion.  My dad used to say that I always had that need to know about my roots.  I also loved to read biographies – books about real people – but I wanted to read about famous women and there weren’t a lot of books about famous women in those days.  In our school library, we had one shelf of a series called, FAMOUS AMERICANS and I read the same four or five books about women, over and over: Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Juliet Gordon Lowe, and Clara Barton.  I’m so glad there are more books about famous women now so that girls have lots of role models to choose from.

I read so many different kinds of books, now.  I’m a big fan of good dystopian fiction, like THE HUNGER GAMES. I read HARRY POTTER before anyone else had discovered it.  I love historical fiction, and I continue to read biographies.  I read books about the American West because sometimes I miss my home in Colorado.  I write book reviews for a website called CLDC.com, which is strictly for children’s books.  I am a very honest reviewer.  If I don’t like a book, I say so.  But every now and then, they’ll send me a book that is so wonderful and exciting that I can’t stop talking about it.  For example, I just read I AM MALALA by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb.  Malala is a young girl in Pakistan who is fighting for all young people, but especially girls, to get an education.  The Taliban, men who don’t agree that girls should be educated, shot her.  She recovered and continues to fight for the rights of young women.  She is a hero to me.

LL: That sounds like an inspiring book. Is there a book that changed your life?

LG: It’s very hard to think of one book that changed my life.  I suppose I would say A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith was one.  I read it when I was about 11.  It’s about a young girl growing up very poor in Brooklyn and how, in a way, books saved her life.  I identified with her going to the library and wanting to read every book, from A to Z.  I have a collection of books that I read in my teens that had special meaning for me: A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN; TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, which is one of the most important books ever written in this country; SNOW IN AUGUST  by Pete Hammill; DAVITA’S HARP by Chaim Potok; ANNE FRANK: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL. When I was a child, World War II had happened only a few years before, and we were still learning about how cruelly the Jewish people had been treated in Europe.  I had friends who were the children of concentration camp survivors, and learning about that chapter of history has become a special obsession of mine.  I have three or four different versions of Anne’s diary.

LL: When I was little, I spent much time at the public library, but no one guided my reading choices. I read a lot, but randomly, and missed some great books. Do you see kids like that, and how do you try to help them?

LG: I read the same way you did as a child, until I was about 12.  Then one day I announced to the children’s librarian that I was sick of children’s books and I wanted to read adult books.  She asked me to read one book before I “graduated.”  It was A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeline L’Engle.  It was probably the first science fiction/ fantasy book I ever read, and I loved it.  When a child asks me what to read, I first ask them if they think they are a good reader or not.  It’s important that kids read books that they can handle so that they don’t give up on them.  I also ask them what the best book they’ve ever read is.  That helps me to know what kind of book they like and sometimes I can find something with a similar feel.  Every now and then, I’ll simply hand them a book and say, “You have to read this.”  For little, little kids, my favorite book to hand out is PRESS HERE by Herve Tullet. For older kids, I love to give them books by Eva Ibbotson.  Sometimes I’ll give newer readers the MRS PIGGLE WIGGLE books by Betty McDonald.

LL: Do you think kids are reading more, less, or the same amount than they used to?

LG: Sadly, I think kids read a lot less than they used to, and the books that they read are not always the best books in the library.  There’s nothing wrong with reading WIMPY KID, but as a steady diet, you deprive yourself of wonderful, wonderful books.  A lot of schools are now using Common Core, as well, and they are requiring kids to read only non-fiction books.  It’s great to have children read anything, and to learn about true events and facts.  However, unless kids also read imaginative stories, I fear that their brains will stop growing in ways that help them experiment, create, write, do art, love music, and all of the things that I find so important in my life.  A steady diet of facts is not as exciting as a mixture of fact and fiction.  We need dreamers as well as thinkers.

LL: You run a lot of different programs for children at the library. Do you have a favorite?

LG: That’s a toss up.  I love Reading Dogs [children practice reading by reading to therapy dogs].  I’ve carried that with me all over the country.  Each time I start a new Reading Dog program, I am amazed at the loving, caring people who work with therapy dogs and the magic that is performed by the dogs.  However, I also love putting together the Family Fun Day programs, especially when I get to bring in something really wonderful like the Phoenix Quintet that we are hosting in January.  I was raised on classical music and music in general.  When I can bring in something really worthwhile and culturally memorable like “Peter and the Wolf” (something that I also heard every year as a child), it takes me back to how important music is in my life.

Miss Lois is currently looking for more volunteers to help in her Book Buddies program on Thursday afternoons from 3:30 to 4 p.m. Book Buddies is older kids (around 11 years old) reading to younger kids (aged 3 1/2 +). Here’s what it looked like last Thursday:

First, the little buddies pick a book:IMG_8090Then they take it to a bigger buddy to read it to them: IMG_8099IMG_8088IMG_8094 Miss Lois keeps an eye on things, just in case: IMG_8093IMG_8105It’s SOO much fun, we could hardly stand it!

At the end, when all the little buddies have gone, the big buddies give Miss Lois a group hug:IMG_8108Sweet!

What are the most popular books young readers ask for? Miss Lois showed me her collection of “Pink Books,” Blue Books” and “Books for Free Children: IMG_8111LG: With little kids, it’s princesses for girls and trucks for boys. I find that discouraging, but I finally got tired of searching for those books and made shelving areas with just “pink” and “blue” books.  However, being a sneaky librarian, I also made a section of books “For Free Children,” books that encourage kids to see themselves as something other than stereotypes; books that say boys can love princess dresses if they want, and girls can fight dragons if one happens to get in their way.

LL: Do you have any hobbies?

LG: Need I say reading?  And writing.  I write for several blogs, on-line.  I haven’t had much time to do storytelling, other than at the library, but that also remains a special passion.  When I retire, I think I’m going to get involved in local politics too.  I think it’s very important that thoughtful people of good conscience get involved in the political process because it has gotten so out of whack.  I want to encourage young women, in particular, to make their voices heard, politically.

Click here to see a guest post that Miss Lois has written for metromoms.

LL: What author, dead or alive, would you most like to have dinner with?

LG: I’d love to sit down with Harper Lee and talk about her father who inspired Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  From what I’ve read of her, she’s such a level- headed, smart woman who doesn’t know her own worth.  Of course, I’d also like to sit down and talk to Anne Frank because that would mean that she was still alive and had not been murdered in the concentration camps.  I see Malala Yousafzai as sort of her heir apparent, brave young women who, when faced with incalculable odds, rise above their hardships and serve as beacons for the rest of us.

LL: Thank you, Miss Lois, for this fantastic interview, and for all the wonderful book recommendations that came with it. You ROCK!!! I hope that my young readers will feel inspired by you and run out to meet their own librarians and ask them a lot of questions!

And if you live in Hoboken, hop on up to the third floor of the library . . .IMG_8132 where Miss Lois and her very helpful assistants, Miss Gloria (left), and Miss Marianne, are just waiting for you with so many great gifts, you would not believe: IMG_8118

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