Right now Rocco DeBellis’ favorites are the Scooby-Doo, Magic Treehouse and Guinness World Records for Kids books. Many children, like young DeBellis of Madeleine School, love reading from the get-go, says the librarian at Valley Catholic. (Courtesy DeBellis family)
Right now Rocco DeBellis’ favorites are the Scooby-Doo, Magic Treehouse and Guinness World Records for Kids books. Many children, like young DeBellis of Madeleine School, love reading from the get-go, says the librarian at Valley Catholic. (Courtesy DeBellis family)
It was an end-of-summer outing to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry for Melanie DeBellis and her two youngsters, Rocco, age 7, and Marian, 4. A visit to the gift shop — just to check it out — was part of the day.

“I was so proud,” says DeBellis, whose family attends Madeleine Parish in Northeast Portland. “They headed straight to the books, completely bypassed all the toys.”

DeBellis says libraries and librarians — especially at the Madeleine, where Rocco is a second-grader and Marian will go in the future — are critical in supporting parents in fostering a love of reading in their kids. “That attempt to make reading routine,” she says.

At every Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Portland, love of books begins in reading circles in kindergartens and the early grades.

“We all sit down on the rug and we need to be quiet and the librarian tells us about the book we’re going to read,” says Rocco, who enjoys reading time but likes the book fair even more. “Where we can buy books,” he explains.

In other words, where he can pick his own book, and make it his own.

Madeleine School also incorporates technology into the library, with electronic tablets and a computer lab.

It’s mostly low-tech at home, where DeBellis and her husband read to the kids before lights out. Unwary babysitters are likely to hear the kids insist with perfect sincerity that Mom and Dad always read three chapters. “Or four.”

“That love of reading can develop into a passion for learning as kids get older,” says Andrew Haugen, librarian at Valley Catholic Middle School and High School.

At Valley, Haugen helps students take their excitement over a subject or a project they’ve chosen to the next level.

He gives a library introduction session at the beginning of the year, showing both middle schoolers and high schoolers how to use the electronic databases to which the school subscribes. JSTOR (short for Journal Storage), for instance, gives young scholars access to more than 10 million academic journal articles, books and primary sources. Those are the types of sources teachers want.

“As opposed to blogs or forums or even Wikipedia,” says Haugen. “Although I tell students that Wikipedia can be a good starting point.”

Haugen says it’s incredible how much the internet has changed what’s available for students. “It’s revolutionized everything,” he says.

Libraries have changed beyond that, he adds. “The library is an extension of the school culture itself. We promote the same values and culture as the rest of the school.”

That means that libraries aren’t just silent, serious places for quiet study, although that’s available, too. “Libraries are now places where many learning styles are incorporated,” he says. “It’s OK if there’s some noise as students collaborate on a project. The library is for everyone.”

DeBellis sees transformation at Madeleine as well, and also at her public library, where there’s a play area for kids.

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library,” wrote the novelist Jorge Luis Borges.

For the DeBellis kids, that paradise includes twisty slides.

“But they eventually end up in the book area,” says their mom.

kristenh@catholicsentinel.org