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Learning English through storytelling

Municipal Library opens center with interactive lessons and workshops

Posted: November 9, 2011

By Cat Contiguglia - Staff Writer | Comments (1) | Post comment

Learning English through storytelling

Courtesy Photo

The Storybridge center has more than 1,000 English-language children's books and will host monthly storytelling events.

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Two dozen first-graders sit utterly absorbed in whether Mr. Snooze the puppet is ever going to figure out books aren't for sleeping on, under or in between.

"But Mr. Snooze! Books are for reading!" storyteller Leah Gaffen tells the puppet happily napping between the pages of a storybook. She then translates for the Czech-speaking children, "Knihy jsou pro čtení!" to an explosion of laughter.

This English lesson cleverly disguised as a fun storytelling adventure is an example of the activities that will be taking place at the new Storybridge center at the Korunní branch of the Prague Municipal Library, opened Nov. 1, that will feature around 1,300 English-language books for children of all ages, as well as activities and workshops to encourage the use of the books for interactive learning experiences for children, their parents and their teachers. The project has been undertaken in collaboration with Class Acts, an organization that brings together English-speaking and bilingual families in Prague and organizes children's activities and events in English.

"Having a library where we could go and there were children's books in English seemed like something that I would like to have in Prague. It just made sense to me. I knew a lot of people who had a lot of books, and I thought, 'Why not tap into that?' " Gaffen said.

What: Hosts collection of 1,300 English-language children's books, storytelling and workshops
Where: Korunní branch of the Prague Municipal Library at Korunní 68, Prague 10-Vinohrady
For more information:

In order to ensure the book donations will be fully taken advantage of, the Storybridge enclave will also host monthly storytelling events starting Nov. 9 at 4 p.m. and will host training programs led by Gaffen, along with professors from Masaryk University's Department of English Language and Literature, to educate English teachers and volunteers about using interactive methods to read picture books to children with puppets and other theatrical devices. The training courses will be funded by the U.S. Embassy in Prague.

"We want storytelling to happen in this library, so we're hoping the parents in our project will come here regularly and the English teachers will start taking the books to their classrooms, and that the kids will start experiencing authentic English material from a very young age," Gaffen said.

The idea of creating such a center dawned on Gaffen about a year ago, she said, at a storytelling event in Czech in one of the branches of the Municipal Library, where she struck up a conversation with one of the librarians.

"I said, 'We have about 300 bilingual families, all of them with English-language books at home, and we don't really know what to do with them. We had this idea, wouldn't it be great if we could put them in a library.' And the librarian went, 'Great idea!' So the idea came up a little bit by chance," Gaffen said.

Gaffen said the project launched with hopes of getting around 500 books but was met with so much enthusiasm by local schools and organizations they ended up with almost triple that amount, with sizable donations from the Prague British School, Riverside School, the English International School of Prague and the Christian International School of Prague, as well as organizations like the International Women's Association of Prague (IWAP) and the Prague Christian Library.

"The whole idea is that people can't always access English-language materials, and to have it in a public library, anybody can come here," said Laurie Barnes, an IWAP member and administrator of the Prague Christian Library and Resource Center, which donated books. That has become even more pronounced as the international community in Prague continues to broaden, she said.

The collection is the second-largest of English language children's books in all 40 branches, said Tomáš Řehák, managing director of the Prague Municipal Library, but "what makes this project very special is how it emerged as an initiative," he said.  

"The readers, mainly from the bilingual families living here in Prague, came up with this idea to contribute personal books they bought for their own children … and the project became much bigger than we expected," Řehák said.

The collection ranges from classic picture books for young children from authors like Roald Dahl to more advanced books including horror, science fiction and fantasy, as well as young-adult fiction.

"There are books for all levels. Anyone who would like to find a book, whether he is a beginner or advanced, and no matter what he likes, can find something here," said librarian Michaela Krýslová. "I hope a lot of people will come and borrow books."

Only about half the collection of books is currently available on the shelves, as librarians are still working to write descriptions and label the vast supply, but the full collection should be ready within the next 14 weeks, librarians said.

"It's been really great, working together," said Carol Stanford, a member of the IWAP who helped to collect some of the books. "That's really what allowed this place to happen: the energy of the Czechs. It couldn't have happened without the Czechs."

Cat Contiguglia can be reached at

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