Kona, Kealakekua public libraries offer programs for kids of all ages

  • Kailua-Kona Public Librarian Jennifer Kau’i Young. Special to West Hawaii Today

  • Kealakekua Public Library assistant Stacy Bisgard stands with a variety of books for kids of all ages. (Courtesy photo/Special to West Hawaii Today)

These days when it seems kids have been relegated to endless hours staring at computer screens, West Hawaii’s two public libraries in Kona and Kealakekua have stepped up to offer them a variety of fun and educational participatory options from ages pre-K to teens.

These include book clubs, summer reading programs, virtual Dungeons and Dragons, grab-and-go book bundles, LEGO block building and home story time, plus projects and crafts instruction in baking, arts and more.

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These options are all part of an effort to keep the library relevant to children when they cannot physically access the two facilities to browse books, use materials or take part in programs. (Note: Though libraries statewide are currently closed to the public, all patrons may pick up books they have placed on hold as well as get information by walking up or calling. See separate information sidebar with this article for complete library hours and other details)

At the Kailua-Kona Public Library, for example, children’s Librarian Jennifer Kau’i Young has developed and promoted much more of a digital presence with kids than existed pre-COVID-19 pandemic.

One of these is a virtual book club for fourth- through seventh-grade youths in which they read 30 selected Newberry books and then compete in an annual “quiz bowl” against other teams from around the Big Island. Winners of the competition receive various prizes sponsored by local organizations. Though this year’s islandwide quiz bowl has been canceled due to the pandemic, Young and her team of readers (known as the Page Masters) are still meeting online via Zoom, and taking comprehension quizzes on what they’ve read.

At the Kealakekua branch, Library Assistant Stacy Bisgard likewise mentors kids in a virtual book club called “The Book Squad” featuring middle school keiki that meet each other via Zoom to discuss a book they picked and read. This includes book discussion and maybe puzzles or a quiz. Among these books is one titled “The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom,” a seemingly perfect read for the trials and tribulations of year 2020. Anyone in the age group is welcome to join.

Another activity Bisgard promotes is called Kahoot! a virtual trivia-type game/activity that encourages children to read; while at the Kona Library, programs include a virtual story time for younger kids, a summer reading program, a winter reading challenge, and promoting e-book collections.

Currently, both libraries are hosting a virtual Dungeons and Dragons program for teens in grades six through 12 from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, Nov. 21 and Dec. 5 and 19. All skill levels are welcome; attendance is free, but limited to six teens per session.

Young also started a program called Grab-and-Go Book Bundles, where she chooses five surprise books for youths from preschool to fifth grade; a related program called custom zook Bundles, features five to 10 books selected based on general reader preferences. Interested library patrons of all ages can participate in this service by picking up a Custom Book Bundle form at the front-door circulation desk of the Kailua-Kona Public Library. At the Kealakekua branch, Bisgard likewise offers a similar program called Mystery Bag.

“Think of it as a personal shopper for library materials for all ages,” Bisgard says.

Meanwhile, these local offerings are backed up by an extensive suite of choices found on the Hawaii State Public Library System website – www.librarieshawaii.org. Available are many options to stimulate children’s creativity and imagination: Want to hear a story read? Learn how to bake a cake on YouTube? Build something with LEGO blocks? Watch a documentary movie? Learn a language? Enjoy puppet storytelling? Join a live event?

Also on this website is Scholastic Teachables, a free online database of tens of thousands of searchable and printable educational materials ready-to-use for all age ranges from pre-K to eighth grade. Children and parents can search over 25,000 skills and activity sheets, mini-books, educational crafts, and more.

Both Bisgard and Young view their jobs as helping — in this age of technology — children of all ages to fall in love with and be engaged in reading. Prior to COVID-19, one of the major initiatives to do this was called the Friendly Bus, which is sponsored by the Friends of the Libraries, Kona (F.O.L.K.). In this year-round program, all second-grade students in West Hawaii schools would come to the library to learn about it and get their first library card, if they haven’t already.

The Friendly Bus program not only helped children feel comfortable with the library and books, but also was important outreach to the community, parents and teachers. Young says that while the COVID-19 pandemic has posed new challenges, it has also opened new opportunities to create more and better interfaces between kids and libraries.

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“We are doing what we can and have gotten very positive response to this and to all current efforts,” she said.

If you or someone you know is interested in participating or learning more about these and other library programs, contact Young at the Kailua-Kona branch by calling (808) 327-4327 and Bisgard at the Kealakekua branch by calling (808) 323-7585.

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