By Sarah CR Clark
Andrew Carnegie extolled the wonder of libraries by saying, “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert.”
Many of St. Anthony Park Library’s youngest personally experience these benefits and the truth of Carnegie’s words thanks to Family Storytime and the passion of library associate Alisa Mee.
Laura Kuzzy, parent and frequent storytime attender, shared, “It’s difficult to capture all that storytime has brought to our family and community. Alisa has a gift.”
Kuzzy’s family has attended storytime at the library for six years after a friend recommended it as a way to meet other families. Kuzzy’s oldest child was three-months old at the time.
“Our family will always be grateful to Alisa and Ruby (Alisa’s raccoon puppet co-host) for the space they’ve created, and for Alisa’s unique ability to help people feel seen, valued and welcome.”
A parent of now two young adults, Mee attended storytimes and music classes with her children when they were young.
Reflecting on that experience, Mee said, “As you do, you pick up things. I took my kids to music class and then I did the teacher training and taught music classes. It’s actually through that that I ended up in the storytime world.”
Mee has led storytime at the St. Anthony Park Library, a branch of the St. Paul Public Library for 10 years. Her goal for every storytime session is to bring joy.
Mee often exchanges ideas and inspiration with her friend and Stillwater Public Library storytime leader Kim Faurot.
“Alisa and I text each other every week after storytime to see how it went,” Faurot said. “And the gold standard for us is if it felt magical.”
Beyond the magic Mee said, “Storytime is all about literacy. It’s all about engaging children and, almost more importantly, their families to see literacy as important work.”
Mee said she works to foster a sense of community at storytime. She explained, “I want families to get to know one another, to support one another, to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”
And that seems to be working.
“Alisa will meet a family and remember their names every week when they come,” Kuzzy said. “We’ve met many friends and new families at storytime.”
Another goal of Mee’s is to connect families to the public library itself. She explained that via storytime, she hopes children will “build a relationship with the library, a place they see as theirs, a place they’re drawn to.”
Mee said she spends a significant amount of time preparing for each storytime gathering. She creates her own curriculum and makes all of her own props, materials and even some songs.
“If I took you to my basement you would see bins and bins and bins of storytime props,” she laughed.
Kerri Flanagan has attended Mee’s storytime for years as a parent and as a teacher and co-director of the St. Anthony Park Co-op Preschool. She called Mee a true artist, crafting amazing props and materials for each and every story, inspiring wonder in the littlest ones and the oldest ones alike.
For example, Ruby the Raccoon is a beloved part of Mee’s program repertoire.
“Kids are so attached to Ruby the Raccoon,” Mee said. “And I’m really not a puppeteer, but they love Ruby! She frames storytime every week and has a small, but significant, role.”
When the library couldn’t host indoor meetings during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mee (and Ruby) moved storytime outdoors and down to College Park. Once outside, “Alisa created new props that were larger and more weather resistant so everyone could see the story,” explained Kuzzy.
Mee recalled those outdoor storytimes as particularly magical. “When we are in the park all the people walking their dogs or older people out for a walk wonder what’s happening and stop by. It felt really organic and special.”
While storytimes moved outdoors for Covid safety reasons, Mee would happily have stayed outside if weather permitted. “I think storytime in the park was a good thing we learned from the pandemic,” she said.
Flanagan remembered one specific storytime in College Park as being “a delight.”
She said, “This fall, there was an early snowstorm on a Tuesday morning, and our preschoolers and a few hearty families huddled together for a magical storytime as the snow fell on us.
Many people have told me that Alisa’s storytime brings tears to their eyes; I can attest that this is true! Alisa touches the hearts of all of us.”
Family Storytime happens at St. Anthony Park Library (2245 Como Ave) on Tuesdays at 10:15-10:45 a.m. and again at 11:15-11:45 a.m.
Sarah CR Clark lives in St. Anthony Park and is a regular contributor to the Bugle.
Photo caption Alisa Mee in the front yard of the SAP Library with ’Ruby the Raccoon’ in a weather resistant tent. Photo courtesy of Alisa Mee.