(originally shared with subscribers July 15, 2022)

So I'm one of those people who would withhold a Saturday trip to the library from my kids as a negative consequence, aka a punishment. Not one of the many who, I’m told, might use a trip to the library as a punishment.

I love books. I love libraries. And, when they were little, I managed to get my kids to like them too.

It helped that in Canton, Michigan’s public library we had a bright, spacious, and engaging children's section where kids could be kids and jaunt around and make a little noise, within reason, an adjoining glass walled courtyard which gave us a sense of being connected to the outside while within, and a resident hamster whose chewings became art that was mounted weekly to adorn one of the walls. We would leave with me or us hoisting home upwards of 30 books a week. Some chapter books. Lots of picture books. And we would bounce through every single one. That still remains one of my favorite places, and my favorite library of all time.

Books, in partnership with the mind's eye, are the original virtual reality. They and libraries are phenomenal sanctuary.

Above two images: Canton Public Library, Canton, Michigan

Libraries, particularly with their children's sections, are the candy stores of alternate universes and story rabbit holes. I’m not the best read person, but I've retained that understanding even as the adult who graduated to John Keats, Charlotte Bronte, Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, Audrey Niffenegger, Peter Englund, Ron Chernow (yes, I was reading Alexander before there was a musical, and no I haven't finished it yet, but will testify that it is marvelously written and deeply engaging), and so on. I light up like a firefly inside when I enter the rows and rows of book-stuffed shelves, especially in children’s sections, everywhere. I am one of those folks who finds endless fascination and deep and abiding joy where word and art (particularly watercolor art) meld to bring story to life. I've had a lifelong love affair with the artful communication of kids' picture books that trickles over into my work.

Through much of my life, my jobs have involved or featured arts and communications. Even now that I'm in what you could call a change-of-life career, I'm still working jobs involving or featuring arts and communications. Since I went back for an advanced degree, most of those posts have been in education, public and private. In my frequent work as a language coach, children's picture books remain one of my top recommended resources for learning and reinforcing English, especially for adults.

My primary work at the moment straddles two school districts. Working in one district, sometimes I get to reinforce academic concepts with kids’ picture books. Learning through literacy is a fun and engaging part of that job, be that in classrooms or libraries.

Three weeks ago I went to meet Joy Cichewicz of the Michigan Avenue branch of the Ypsilanti Pubic Library, to tour the children's section. I was there to see the lay of the land and familiarize myself with where I was to do some summer readings in the coming weeks. 

I expressed interest in a work of art I saw in the kids’ section. Ms. Cichewicz explained its history and graciously gave me a tour of the collection it belonged to. 

Sitting lonely in that lower level of the library, given the unfortunate Covid-era low foot traffic, are several real gems. Seriously, the works looks like they’re covered in cut gems. 

Seriously, the works looks like they’re covered in cut gems. 

Pictured above: Stained glass art designed by artist and librarian Joy Cichewicz, based on Pet Show! by Ezra Jack Keats.

Voluptuously colored illustrations, stained glass paintings, if you will, faithful to their original counterparts.

The pieces amount to several reproductions of the art of award-winning children's author and artist Ezra Jack Keats. I'm only showing one of them here. I hope some of my readers will be able to make time to see the whole collection.

More than ten times book size, a community art project of stained glass mosaics were created of favorite scenes from The Snowy Day and Pet Show! They were designed by by Ms Cichewicz and created from pieces of hand-cut stained glass. Art supplies were funded by a grant from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

With the willing help of volunteers -- a few adults and many children – Cichewicz and crew produced voluptuously colored illustrations, faithful to their original counterparts. You can learn a bit about the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation here, and learn a bit more about this library setting via Michigan Public Radio. 

The art is on permanent display, there for you to take in and marvel at in person. It's one library visit I’d highly recommend.

Pictured above: Librarian Joy Cichewicz stands beside her stained glass art design, part of a permanent display completed in 2017 with the help of adult and youth volunteers and funded by a grant from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation.

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