Seward second-graders bring books, library to life with Storybook Pumpkin Patch

Seward second-graders bring books, library to life with Storybook Pumpkin Patch

By Tyler Dahlgren

The library at Seward Elementary School beams with the same color and creativity that fill the pages of all the books packed into the shelves lining the room’s walls. Traditional October spooky sights, spiders and bats and cobwebs, dance below the ceiling and the cover of Dav Pilkey’s Halloween hit The Hallo-Wiener is displayed on the Smartboard sitting in “The Pit”.

The way Jennifer Flemings sees it, there’s no reason to miss out on a season. Not when a book, coupled with some imagination, is all it takes to bring this place to life.

“I wanted to come up with a way for each grade level every year to create a book display here in the library to promote the love of reading and to build excitement within our school community,” said Flemings, the school’s media specialist.

October, when the library is transformed by second-graders into the “Storybook Pumpkin Patch”, is one of Flemings’ personal favorites.

Students pick a book to read and then decorate a pumpkin as their favorite character from the story. The made-over pumpkins, along with the book chosen by the student, are put on display through Halloween, helping fill the library with an Autumn aura.

“It just adds so much more personality to the library when you have not only books, but student-made projects on display,” said Flemings. “It's fun to see them check out each other’s pumpkins. They’ll say ‘Wow, how did you do that? What tools did you use?’ and ‘Oh, when that book comes off display, I’m checking it out.’”

In fact, explaining to the kids that they can’t check out a book from the display is becoming the hardest part of putting on the pumpkin patch, Flemings jokes. The students root each other on, and become fascinated with the projects their classmates create, inspired to pick up another book.

There’s just something heartening about seeing a child with a book in their hand. For a librarian, of course, it’s a welcomed sight.

“Especially at the elementary age,” said Flemings. “Reading on a screen is just not the same. Kids love to be able to have the book in their hands. They are able to easier make a connection.”

Putting the pumpkin patch together has been a nice semblance of normalcy for the students, who wear masks all day, every day, and Flemings, who, along with the library para, spends a majority of the slim free time they have sanitizing every inch of the space.

“It’s also a huge way to build community for the kids, to make a connection with people here in Seward and also with the authors online,” Flemings said.

Oh, yes, there’s fans of the Storybook Pumpkin Patch beyond the walls of the school, too. Dylan Teut, the Executive Director of the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival at Seward’s Concordia University will tag the authors of books chosen by the students on social media platforms. Quite often, those authors will reach out with a comment or other forms of encouragement.

“He (Teut) is amazing about building this community of literacy, about building children’s literacy,” said Flemings. “To second-graders, these authors are like movie stars, they’re celebrities. When an author or illustrator comments on their pumpkin, and I show them on the computer, they just get psyched and excited out of their minds.”

Check out these Facebook comments from the authors!

One student even received an advanced copy of the next installment in the Mac B. Kid Spy series after author Mac Barnett got a glimpse of their characterized pumpkin. Talk about motivation.

In Flemings’ library, things move fast. Soon, the Storybook Pumpkin Patch will give way to the fourth-graders’ Thanksgiving Day Book Character Parade, which will run all the way down the school’s cafeteria wall.

Then the first-graders will create book dioramas, the third-graders will make a haiku book tunnel and kindergartners will bring puppets of their favorite book characters to life.

There’s hardly a month where this library looks anything like a boring old, well....library. Flemings makes sure to enjoy the moments in between. Especially this year.

 “I love the excitement of seeing the students every day and watching them come into the library and be excited about the pumpkin patch or a new book we might have,” she said. “I love being able to watch these kids grow up from kindergarten all the way to fourth grade, to see their skills develop and to see them develop as readers. It’s just awesome.”

With everything going on outside of school, Flemings feels it's good for the kids to have something to look forward to.

In this library, they never have to worry about that.