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Radio Story Hour Connects Children in Alaska During COVID-19 Crisis


In this April 2, 2020, photo provided by librarian Claudia Haines, she poses for the selfie while preparing to read stories on the air at local radio station KBBI in Homer, Alaska. (Claudia Haines via AP)
Radio Story Hour Connects Children in Alaska During COVID-19 Crisis
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All it takes is a few words from a storybook to connect young children over a radio station’s broadcasts. Radio may not be the most modern technology, but it has been reaching out to children in many parts of the United States during the coronavirus crisis. It even reaches the most remote towns and villages in Alaska, many of which lack good internet connections.

The public library in the town of Homer, Alaska got creative when it had to close during the pandemic. It is now partnering with a radio station to bring a story hour to very young children. They are required to stay-at-home because of the government’s rules for protecting the public against the virus.

Youth services librarian Claudia Haines reads children’s books Thursday mornings on radio station KBBI, which serves the town of 5,000 and surrounding villages. The station is among several radio broadcasters that have served Alaska communities for many years.

“Radio has such a storytelling tradition,” Haines said. “It’s nice to see it put to use.”

The program is among ways U.S. libraries are dealing with the pandemic, notes a study from the Public Library Association. About 2,500 libraries nationwide answered questions from the association. More than 90% of the libraries reported that their buildings are closed. Like the Homer library, they have expanded online services like streaming media and e-books.

Local libraries are providing for their communities in other ways, too. The El Dorado County Library in California is using its 3-D printers to make face covers for hospitals and other places. The Saint Louis County Library in Missouri partnered with a diaper bank to provide a drive-through emergency diaper service at four library buildings.

In Alaska, the radio story hour, which is also live-streamed on KBBI’s website, has dance breaks to let young listeners burn off some energy. The program also invites boys and girls to call in to the show before it ends each day.

“They were really happy to call and say hello and have me recognize them,” Haines said. “The spirit of the first program was, ‘Hey, we’ve been apart while the library is closed and we’re all staying home, but we’re still here together in our community, and this is a way to stay connected.’”

Four-year-old Polly Fraley always listens to the story hour. She said her favorite part of a recent show was “when everybody ate dinner” in the book Thank you, Omu! by Oge Mora.

In this April 2, 2020, photo provided by Cassy Quinlan, 4-year-old Polly Fraley listens in Homer, Alaska, to children's stories being read on air at local radio station KBBI by librarian Claudia Haines.
In this April 2, 2020, photo provided by Cassy Quinlan, 4-year-old Polly Fraley listens in Homer, Alaska, to children's stories being read on air at local radio station KBBI by librarian Claudia Haines.

Polly’s mother, Cassy Quinlan, said her family has listened to the station for a long time. She said they even communicate through KBBI with friends who have poor internet service. The station reads messages from listeners in its broadcasts. They can include anything from birthday wishes to love poems, Quinlan said.

Polly and her 6-year-old sister, Lucy, have been missing the library since it closed in March. But the pandemic “is bringing people back to simplicity, you know, the basics — radio, reading, doing a puzzle,” Quinlan said.

Librarian Claudia Haines said she jumped at the chance to connect again with families. Leading the show is one of the rare times she leaves the house, working with a single radio station employee to get it on the air.

The story hour is part of the station’s larger effort to keep people connected although they're in isolation, KBBI development director Loren Barrett said. KBBI has also added weekly COVID-19 information reporting from officials. Another new program, called Social Distance, includes live music and discussions about food for listeners seeking new recipes.

Retired Alaskan broadcaster Al Bramstedt, Junior noted the importance of radio right now for many across the country. “Radio, particularly in a small community like that ... can really focus in on children and do excellent work,” he said.

I’m Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

remote -adj. far away from other people, houses, cities, etc.

library -n. a place where books, magazines, and other materials (such as videos and musical recordings) are available for people to use or borrow

pandemic -n.​ a situation in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world​

stream -v.​ to transfer (digital data, such as audio or video material) in a continuous stream especially for immediate processing or playback​

diaper -n.​ a piece of cloth or other material that is placed between a baby's legs and fastened around the waist to hold body waste​

puzzle -n.​ a question, problem, or device to test skill or intelligence​

isolation -n.​ the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others​

recipe -n.​ a set of instructions for making food​

focus -v.​ to direct your attention or effort at something specific​

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