On the Shelf with Youth Services Librarian Cassie Runkel
Cassie is a Youth Services librarian at a public library in southern New Jersey. She adores her home state and is thrilled to serve its residents through both traditional and innovative programming and collections. Her favorite dewey range is 500-699.999.
The Children’s Book Review: Why did you choose to be a librarian?
Cassie Runkel: As an undergraduate, I had many different career ideas. At times I thought I would be an elementary school teacher, at other times I thought of nursing. I knew that I wanted a career that worked toward justice and equality for all people. When I broke my computer (woops!) while living in Portland, Oregon, I ended up spending a lot of time in the local public library and the seed was planted! After a lot of research and introspection, I knew it was the perfect job for me. I wish I could remember who told me only to become a librarian if I “want[ed] to learn new things every day,” because it sure is true, and I love it.
TCBR: Librarians are the ultimate evangelists for reading. How do you encourage students and children to read?
CR: I run a few different story times for younger children, and I’m constantly trying to make sure the books I choose are FUN—and I use a similar philosophy when helping older children or teens choose materials. I also always remind the kids that if they don’t like what I’ve given them, they can tell me! Brutal honesty helps me to weed out what won’t work for them, and I enjoy the company of young critics!
TCBR: Which kids’ or teen book is the most frequently checked-out in your library? Why do you think it is?
CR: R.J. Palacio’s Wonder has been huge in our community. All of our copies have been constantly checked out for months, and kids are constantly asking for read-alikes. I know some teachers are reading it in the classroom—and I think the buzz spreads around school. I think it’s an honest book that treats its readers with respect; it seems to strike a chord on an emotional level with a lot of young folks. Clearly, I too am a fan!
TCBR: What is your favorite read-aloud for a preschool story-time? Why?
CR: Christie Matheson’s Tap the Magic Tree is absolutely fabulous. It’s a like spring awakening of Herve Tullet’s Press Here. My colleagues and I have been using it for story-times and school visits all month, and it was a big hit during sensory storytime (which is a smaller group). Matheson’s book is well-written, beautifully illustrated, and allows our audience to become part of the story. What more could you ask for?
TCBR: Which new releases are you dying to lay your hands on?
CR: I am really excited for Dreamer, Wisher, Liar by Charise Mericle Harper, which I came upon sort of haphazardly when searching for something else—and realized we had to have it for our collection! I love novels that explore friendships, and I think a lot of my patrons do as well. I’m also excited for A Boy and a Jaguar, a picture book biography written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by Catia Chien. I love picture books that pack an emotional punch, and I’d never heard of Rabinowitz until reading a review on this upcoming title.
TCBR: What steps do you take to strengthen the relationship of the library with local schools and the community?
CR: I have an awesome colleague who organizes lots of visits from our local schools—and I think remaining flexible is a key component in fostering these relationships. We’re really into outreach and attend as many community events as possible, even if we don’t have a table. We also have a new strategic plan that helps to keep us focused on reaching out to underserved groups. Each day I try to remember that the library and it’s services and collections really do belong to our community.
TCBR: What kinds of regular reading events or story-time sessions do you host?
CR: Well, let’s see! When I came to my job, I took over the story-time for children under age 2, a program based on Mother Goose on the Loose. I also lead an evening story-time twice monthly for children aged 2-6 that attempts to reach the folks who cannot make it to our daytime story-times. Lastly, I host our library’s monthly Sensory Saturday, which is a story-time designed specifically for children on the autism spectrum (but open to all)!
TCBR: Could you tell us one thing about librarians or libraries that you think would be surprising?
CR: People are usually surprised when I start talking about teaching kids about circuit boards like maKey-maKey or the intricacies of planning developmentally appropriate story-times. Anything that surprises folks is always great conversation fodder to generate library support, so bring it on, world!
TCBR: I’m sure that you are asked many interesting questions on a daily basis. What would you say has been the most entertaining question asked of you by a parent or a child?
CR: One time, a patron came up and asked us if we knew of a children’s fiction title she read in school in the 1970s. She remembered that it took place during the American Revolution and that one of the lines went something like ”there’s just no place for honest counterfeiting anymore!” We had a good laugh about the quote, but my shift was over and I couldn’t get this stumper off my mind. They always give me such a rush! I had to look on WorldCat at home that night. I found the title and emailed her—she was thrilled and ordered the book online. For anyone interested, it’s called The Bells of Freedom by Dorothy Gilman Butters and comes highly recommended by our patron and her daughter.
TCBR: If you could be any fictional character from children’s literature, who would it be? Why?
CR: I always want to say Ramona Quimby, but then I remember that childhood is tough and I don’t want to get egg in my hair or destroy anyone’s craft projects (but I get it, Ramona, I really do). At this juncture in my life, I would say Charlotte A. Cavatica from Charlotte’s Web. I would love to be that calm, collected, and clever in the face of danger.
If you enjoyed this interview with Youth Services librarian Cassie Runkel, please check out our other interviews in the On the Shelf series.