The public library in an Internet age: Traverse Area District Library talks child sexual abuse
At the Woodmere branch of the Traverse Area District Library in Traverse City, storytelling doesn’t just mean picture books and reading aloud. It means singing, crafts and sometimes, tackling difficult topics: like sexual abuse.
In April, children’s librarian Catherine Lancaster planned a story time based on Jill Starishevsky’s children’s book “My Body Belongs to Me”, which tells the story of a child inappropriately touched by an uncle’s friend. The child tells on the adult and is met with praise for being brave.
“We wanted to make sure we empowered the kids to own their own bodies,” Lancaster said. “We didn’t want to scare them, but we wanted them to make sure they knew the difference between what a secret is and what a surprise is. Often, if they’re told to keep a secret with an adult, sometimes it can be an inappropriate secret.”
The event was put on in partnership with the Traverse Bay Children’s Advocacy Center. Storyteller Jenifer Strauss and singer-songwriter Miriam Pico planned the presentation, which included songs and stories aimed at preschoolers, kindergartners and their parents.
Strauss owns her own business, Story Be Told. She’s a storyteller and a literacy coach who’s worked with libraries, non-profits, businesses and other organizations who wish to tell stories.
“Story is how we make our way in the world,” she said. “It is how we connect as human beings, and the common denominator of all humans.”
Strauss works with 30 to 60 libraries every summer, mainly for summer reading programs. She said her program at the Woodmere Branch was the hardest one she’s ever done.
“It’s a very delicate issue,” she said. “But it’s also one that has incredible importance in terms of awareness and empowering young people to get help when they need it.”
Lancaster said she loves doing this type of programming because she thinks it’s important to teach kids about tough topics.
“Kids are really open and understanding,” she said. “If we reach out to them at a young age and expose them to culture and all of our differences, they’re really receptive and really learn.”
The first performance was on April 20. In attendance were 125 kids and parents, and then more parents reached out, asking for another one. Two more performances are scheduled on October 12 at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Lancaster said libraries are great for this type of programming because they act as a community center, a place for people to gather and learn.
– Carolyn Gearig and Paula Friedrich