Watch out illiteracy, Mid-Continent Public Library is out to eradicate you through its Storytime program involving more – a whole lot more – than children listening to their favorite stories.

“What has happened over the past few years is that Storytime has been expanded to include not only reading, but also writing, playing, singing and talking,” says Jean Tapley, Youth Services Storytime Specialist for Mid- Continent, who says the purpose of the popular program for preschool youngsters is literacy.

“The library gives access to those parents and caregivers for a place to start to instill a lot of reading and make life learnable,” she says. “We are intentional … and a model for adults who come to Storytime. We show them how they can lay that foundation for early literacy so they can go on to be successful community members. ...We are showing them how to read, how to write and how to play … and we would hope what happens in the library will carry over into the home so they can feel that love of reading.”

Jean says studies show that if a child is not reading at the third-grade level by the third grade, the chances of graduating from high school diminish greatly. “What we are saying is that literacy is important.” So important that Mid-Continent is reaching out into the community and bringing Storytime to help with literacy, at such outreaches as schools, apartment complexes and other public facilities.

Soon, Mid-Continent will be rolling out its Reading Rocket, a big truck bearing “Mid-Continent Library” on its side, as well as Marty the Martian. Under the umbrella of “Grow a Reader,” the library on wheels will visit places with the highest need and bring Storytime and access to the library, she says, “Because we know literacy is so important.”

Says Jean: “The rocket will be taken to those places where people don't have transportation. For Independence, that would be like Hawthorne Apartments. We already have a Storytime there. But if we had a library on wheels, how much more fun would that be for the children in the community.

Hawthorne, though, isn't the only locale Reading Rocket will visit. Jean also envisions the traveling library at city parks and schools in the summertime – those places where kids gather, but don't have transportation to come to the library.

And, she continues, “If I had a million dollars, I would (buy) a fleet of those (Reading Rockets). These people need literacy. They need that access and they need that assistance to make them be all they could be.”

New to Storytime is “Give Me Five,” a program directly coordinated with kindergarten readiness, which Jeans calls “really fabulous.”

“We are dropping everything and are reading,” she says, explaining children love to hear a story from the person who brought them (to Storytime.) “So they will have a couple of minutes to drop everything (and read.)”

And that's not all Mid-Continent is doing to promote literacy. It has introduced another program, “1,000 Before Kindergarten.”

“If you think about 1,000 books, that's 365 books a year,” Jean says. “...So if you are reading that many books in a year, it's easy to do that, and that child is going to have such a good foundation before going to kindergarten.”

For years and years, the Storytime program at South Independence branch was an orphan without a real home, that is, until receiving a gift from the estate of Betty L. Widmier, earmarking the Community Room for a branch improvement.

Once Storytime was held in the southeast corner of the Library, with a curtain cordoning off the noisy program area from the rest of the quiet library. “And the whole library could hear everything we said,” Jean recalls. “...With the doors and the walls, now we can be loud, have fun and know that we are not going to disturb anyone who is studying in the library. It has given us a little more freedom to play, which is important for brain development of children. Now Storytime occupies a modern, spacious permanent home in the newly remodeled Community Programming Room that opened in the fall of 2015.

Has the library's literacy thrust been successful? Jean believes it has, not only across the system, but also in the renovated Storytime room.

Says Jean: “It's not about the numbers, but our numbers are growing … and we are getting such great stories from parents about children who want to read. And now they are loving to read.”

Like the mother who told Jean: “I never knew my son loved trains until we got a book about trains, and now all he wants to read is books about trains.

Then there was the grandmother who attended Storytime with her granddaughter until she entered preschool. Later, she returned with her toddler grandson and told Jean, “Oh, my goodness. I see a difference here. My grandson is more interactive. It seems like you are doing more things the kids really enjoy, and they are benefitting from them.”

“Yeah, that is what we are doing,” Jean replies to the ecstatic grandmother. Kids are playing with kinetic sand, digging in rice for little objects they could find that would help them with their fine motor skills, reading fun books, singing songs, learning finger play and more.

Storytime, which begins at 10 a.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays at the South Independence branch, is free and open to the public. Wednesdays are for toddlers, Thursdays are for families. For more information, call the Mid-Continent Public Library at 816-804-4518.

Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.