BookPALS, which stands for Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools, is a project of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation. It is their “signature children’s literacy program,” with the goal of developing the love of reading in children and to promote the art of storytelling.
Professional actors and performers volunteer their time to this free program, reading at schools, hospitals, libraries, and social service agencies. The Screen Actors Guild Foundation operates BookPAL branches in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New England, New York, Florida, and Arizona.
In the Bay Area, BookPALS has over 150 volunteers reading at various sites, including Children’s Fairyland in Oakland and at Read Across America events for Dr. Seuss’s birthday. They partnered with the San Francisco Public Library to organize and participate in the Dia de los Ninos, Dia del los Libros.
Many librarians know of the Screen Actors Guild’s website Storyline Online, www.storylineonline.net , where noted actors read award-winning children’s books (and show the illustrations), to bring the read-aloud experience to children who may not live in a community with a library or a storytime.
The Bay Area BookPALS would like to expand their efforts to include more libraries in Oakland, Fremont, San Jose, and nearby areas. Their program coordinator Stephanie Tang did an interview by email to give librarians more information on how to partner with Book PALS:
ACL: Hi Stephanie! How did you get involved in BookPALS?
Stephanie: I applied and was hired! With my background in social justice work and amateur librarian-ing of a Little Free Library, BookPALS is a perfect fit. The mission of reading to deserving kids and creating opportunities for all kids to have a love of language truly speaks to me.
ACL: We know the professional actors are trained in projecting their voices and other techniques that will help them read aloud to an audience. What type of training do the actors receive on dealing with young audiences?
Stephanie: Our performers attend an orientation and are offered additional training opportunities about literacy topics. For example, BookPALS just learned about the tenets of Social Emotional Learning and how to incorporate these concepts in a book sharing. As for young audiences, our BookPALS love the special energy and feedback of young audiences. We ask out BookPALS to engage with the kids, but BookPALS always have a teacher, librarian or other educator with them for the extra sticky moments.
ACL: How are the books chosen for these read-aloud visits?
Stephanie: Our performers work with the host in determining the best books for the situation. If a teacher is doing a unit on bugs, then the BookPAL will read relevant material. We ask our performers to read books they love and find they can bring their gifts to any material. My BookPALS could read the phone book and it would still be enthralling!
ACL: What type of space is needed for a library to host a BookPALS program?
Stephanie: Performers can make any space work. Of course, we love a reading rug!
ACL: Is there a size limit to the audience? Or can the actors read to large groups?
Stephanie: We find our performers do best in groups where they can interact with the reader. We find a group of 50 or smaller ideal. For larger groups, perhaps a reader’s theater performance would be more appropriate.
ACL: How can libraries and other organizations contact you to set up a BookPALS event?
ACL: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us!
Penny Peck, San Jose State Univ. iSchool