As of Monday, August 6, 2018
Storytime is not silent listening at the Sunnyside Library. Instead, children react as Community Library Supervisor Marcelina Ortega reads through a picture book page by page.
In one book, a child goes through adventures in a wild landscape, with the book asking at each step of the way if the situation is good or bad. The children called out “good” or “bad” depending on the page. When one young voice piped up with a suggestion the child is about to be eaten, Ortega calmed her fears.
“No one dies in this story,” she said.
From somewhere in the crowd a disappointed “aw” was audible before the next page brought another adventure and responses on whether the new development was good or bad.
For Ortega, Storytime is the highlight of her work at the library.
“It really is my favorite part of the job,” she said. “I love reading and getting responses from the children.”
Ortega was born in Prosser and grew up in Grandview. The daughter of farm workers, she was taught to read by her older sister, who played school with her.
“I started out in the top of the class in reading,” she said.
She moved to Sunnyside as an adult. She briefly attended Washington State University with the intention of becoming a teacher but left to start a family.
“I wanted to teach kindergarten,” she said. “But I also wanted to have my own children.”
She worked for a time after having her first child. She was the billing secretary at a clinic, but it wasn’t what she wanted from life. She soon became a full-time housewife and mother to her five children. She stayed at home for 11 years then found herself wanting to go back to work.
“I was made for more than this,” she said. “When I saw an ad in the paper for a library job in 1988, I jumped at the chance.”
She was so certain that she would get the job she alerted parents she had been babysitting for that she would no longer be available – before she even applied. It was part-time work, only 14 hours a week, but she settled in quickly.
“In the second week on the job, they said it was my turn to do Storytime,” she said. “I had never sweated so much before in my life. I was terrified.”
Fortunately, she was good at it and loved it.
“I knew it right away, this would be my favorite part of the job,” she said. “It fulfilled the desire to teach that I’d always had.”
She quickly took over the Storytime duties at the library and has been at it ever since, reading to diverse audiences and generations of Sunnyside children.
Although Storytime is her favorite part of the job, she says all her duties are fun.
“I can work with a preschooler then turn around and help a senior citizen,” she said. “There’s constant variety in this job.”
Ortega also uses a puppet dog named Harry to teach animal safety to children at the library and events. In front of a group of fascinated children, she shows the proper way to approach an unfamiliar dog, making Harry sniff her hand and explaining why Harry might nip if he’s scared.
“Sometimes I do have people come up to see if he’s real,” she said.
Pre-school Storytime is every Friday at 10 a.m. at the library.