Katonah Reading Room to host Diverse Voices Story Times

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Image courtesy of Gretchen Menzies

Gretchen Menzies, co-owner of the recently reopened Katonah Reading Room, had been looking for a way to up her business’ story time game. She recognized that lots of local libraries already host story times or Zoom events. Menzies wanted to do something more meaningful.

Through a conversation with Carrie Clifford, her friend from college, Menzies came up with the idea to host Diverse Voices Story Times. Clifford co-hosts the podcast “Hard Candy and Fruit Snacks” along with Gloria Harrison, in which the two discuss systemic racism, inequality, and injustice while reminiscing about growing up as black and white kids.

Menzies envisioned hosting a story time in which people from diverse backgrounds read stories featuring diverse characters. In this way, she could offer children insight into other races, cultures and countries, at a time when kids have been living very insular lives due to the pandemic.

“The kids who come in here are so isolated. They’re looking at people in masks and trying to figure out social cues,” Menzies said. “They can’t see me smiling at them and interacting in the ways I used to interact. It’s a very fearful time.”

The first event in the Diverse Voices series will take place on Wednesday, March 10 at 6pm via Zoom. Harrison will read the books “Hair Love” and “I Love Being Me, Uniquely Me.” Attendees can purchase the books ahead of time, and 20% of the proceeds from the sold books will be donated to Hard Candy & Fruit Snacks’ Social Justice Scholarship Fund. The fund helps disadvantaged high school seniors from the inner city of Boston to pay for college.

Menzies said that the charitable organization will vary along with the readers; each reader will have the opportunity to pick a charity of their choosing to direct proceeds to. “It’s a fun way to let people know what’s out there,” Menzies said.

Menzies emphasized that she’s eager to host any reader. “Diverse means everything,” she said, noting that readers for Diverse Voices could represent different faiths or hail from a country outside the U.S. “There are just so many interesting people around here that are from different places and have different faces. I’d love as many voices as possible and want people to reach out to me if they want to read.”

A larger goal for Menzies is helping to get diverse books on people’s bookshelves. “A lot of people are trying to seek that out, support it and teach their kids,” she said. “But you don’t necessarily know what to get. And the first instinct is to buy something familiar. If kids have seen a book read by somebody, they’re more likely to be interested in trying a new book.”

While the percentage of children’s books depicting characters from diverse backgrounds has increased over the past several years, Menzie cautioned that adding diverse books to your library shouldn’t solely be about reading something themed around diversity. “It doesn’t always need to be a lesson. It can just be seeing characters who look different.”

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