Read about FVRL’s kids’ area from a national perspective:
Vancouver ranked No. 10 on the Livability.com list of Top 10 cities for “stay-cations.”
Spokesman John Hood says the site’s mission is to “help people discover America’s best places to live.”
To the far west is a blur of activity in the Land of Imagination. At the eastern edge, Kendra Jones and her finger-puppet lion are holding court amid more than 60 toddlers and their grown-up companions.
In between are all the other resources, materials and people that go into the second-best children’s library in the nation.
That is the verdict of Livability.com, which just released its list of the nation’s Top 10 children’s libraries.
In its assessment, Livability.com called the third floor of the new Vancouver Community Library “a sensory treat that draws as many as 12,000 visitors each week. Librarians have reported seeing children hop, run and pull their parents into this magical place.”
That description was echoed Tuesday by a mom whose son was hard at play in the Early Learning Center.
“We don’t drag him,” she said. “He drags us.”
The children’s area is part of the $38 million downtown library that opened in July at 901 C St. The third-floor layout was designed for children ranging from newborns to 11-year-olds. The west end features the Early Learning Center, created to stir the imaginations of kids 5 and younger.
Funded with the help of a $5 million donation, it’s the biggest library-based early learning center in the nation, Fort Vancouver Regional Library officials say.
The center includes attractions like the Land of Imagination and the Magic Music Box.
“That makes it a destination,” said Ruth Shafer, children’s services manager. “The staff and the programs bring them back year after year.”
One of those programs was on the schedule Tuesday morning, when Jones conducted two story time sessions for children 18 months to 36 months old.
It’s the sort of activity that brings Diane Walker and her 2-year-old daughter, Anna Belle, to the library twice a week — and they live in Troutdale, Ore.
“We love it,” Walker said.
Walker does have a local connection in her cousin, Vancouver resident Rainy Rau, who brought her 16-month-old daughter, Lilly, to the 10:30 a.m. story time.
Nick Heaton and wife Melanie brought their daughter, Bailee, for a full morning of activity.
“We went to the 9:30 story time and then came over here to play,” Nick Heaton said at the Early Learning Center. “Bailee just loves story time.”
When their daughter is finished playing in the learning center, “We’ll get some books and go home,” he said.
National spokesman John Hood said Livability.com evaluated about 500 libraries across the country in determining its Top 10.
(The No. 1 site is a partnership between the public library in Charlotte, N.C., and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte).
The children’s area in Vancouver “is one of the most cutting-edge in terms of programs and design,” Hood said from the site’s headquarters in Franklin, Tenn.
“It’s not just that it’s a brand-new library,” Hood said. “It’s the approaches they take. The visitors it has had since it opened is testament to that.”
While it’s a children’s library area, adults are an important part of their target audience, the library’s Shafer said. That includes toddler story time.
“We’re reading to adults as well,” she said. “We’re modeling how they can be involved with their children.”
That goes well beyond story times.
“We have parent-kid book discussions,” Shafer said. “It gets parents and children talking, so they can continue those conversations later, on deeper levels.”
Shafer said she’s been at the Vancouver library for 21 years, and knows how parents influence their young learners.
“Some of the kids I had in preschool story times,” Shafer said, “now are bringing their own kids.”