Give the people what they want: ninjas and haunted things

Audra Gallegos, school librarian at Lawton Elementary School, started out as a teacher. Why’d she make the switch to librarian? Being a teacher “didn’t turn out to be literary enough,” she says. “When WASL became more important, the writing became more dry. It was less about experiencing the world through literature and more about writing essays.”

“I’d always wanted to be a librarian because I’m such a reader,” Gallegos explains, so she took a two-year, part-time certificate program at University of Washington. This is her sixth year as a librarian and her third year at Lawton, and Gallegos knows she made the right decision. School librarian, she says, is “the best job for me. It’s so much fun.” As a high school teacher, she says, “the stakes were so high,” but as a librarian for kids in the K-5 range, she gets to “be a part of their first experience in school,” and to be their first librarian.

Gallegos receives visits from roughly six classes a day. She loves being their first experience with research. “Kids who are four, five, and six tend to be really fixated on certain topics,” she says. “They’ll have these really specific asks.” Like what?

“Recently, there’s this little group of boys and they want books about ninjas. We don’t have a very big collection of books about ninjas for five year olds, so they’ve exhausted our collection.” When she started at her job, Gallegos says she learned that “there are not a lot of early elementary books about ninjas,” but that Mary Pope Osborne, the woman who writes the Magic Tree House series of books, has co-authored a very good book on them.

What are some other trends? “This year, all the kids wanted books on haunted hotels,” Gallegos says. Kids in general are into ghost stories, so she makes sure her library is stocked with “a lot of books about haunted and scary things.” The Nest is a current favorite. “It’s about this boy who gets stung by a wasp and then starts having dreams about this queen wasp who supposedly lives in a wasp’s nest outside his baby brothers’ room, and his baby brother might die,” Gallegos explains. “It’s really creepy. Certain kids just love that stuff.” Graphic novels and books on Minecraft are currently very popular, too.

Gallegos says parents will often ask how to get their kids interested in a different kind of reading. Parents who read novels, she says, will sometimes get upset if their kids only read non-fiction. She tells them all the same thing: parents should “let their kids read what they want. If they want to read graphic novels or Captain Underpants books? That’s reading. Just let them read.”

The local PTA has been very good to Gallegos, providing money for her to add to the school’s collection. She’s so grateful for their assistance: “some schools don’t have book budgets at all.” She talks to school librarians “who have literally no money to buy books, and it seems crazy that there should be a library with no books.”

But if you really want to help your school librarian, Gallegos says, you should volunteer your time. You don’t have to commit many hours a week, she says. “Any help is so great.” She says that parents who contribute just an hour of shelving assistance are always unnecessarily apologetic. She says it’s “like if someone came into your kitchen and washed half of your dishes for you. You’d never say, ‘oh, I’m sorry I only folded half your laundry.’ Every little bit helps,” she says.