Whitestone librarian Susan Scatena’s annual themed performances have become a beloved tradition at the library, encouraging children to read and explore the world.
Every year since 2006, Scatena — who has a profound love for reading — has challenged an average of 300 children in the Whitestone Reading Club to read at least 2,000 books over the summer. If they reach the goal, she does something special for them, often drawing inspiration for her stunts from well-known children’s books.
“I wanted to get the kids to read and I remember talking to one of the children’s supervisors and said, ‘How could we get kids to read?’” Scatena said. “I would do anything to get kids to read. I would sit in Jell-O if it got kids to read and that was my first challenge. I challenged the kids to read 2,000 books and they did and I sat in Jell-O on the front steps, while a kid sprayed my hair purple.”
On Aug. 16, Scatena’s team congratulated 159 kids for completing the challenge of reading 2,800 books over the summer at the Whitestone Branch Queens Library, located at 151-10 14th Rd. This year, Scatena’s special performance included children dressed as monkeys taking caps off her head as her team read “Caps for Sale” by Esphyr Slobodkina.
“It had to be a book that the kids are familiar with that lends itself to a performance,” Scatena said. “They always ask me year round what am I going to do next.”
In the past year, Scatena’s acts included sitting in a tub full of spaghetti covered with sauce, reading a bedtime story to a real bunny in her pajamas, and doing the chicken dance while dressed in a chicken costume. She has also kissed a frog, held a 14-foot Burmese python, and morphed from a caterpillar into a butterfly.
“I have two big 3-gallon jars on the desk next to me and every time they read a book they get a poker chip to put in the jar. They like seeing who’s reading more, the girls or the boys. It gives them a little incentive to read more and gets them into the library,” Scatena said.
Scatena, who joined the Whitestone library in February 2002, said the importance of reading helps to expand children’s imaginations, travel to different places, and learn things that they haven’t learned before.
“They have to learn there are other places outside of Whitestone — like France, Canada, Mexico, about Africa, to learn about all of these different places so they can figure out what’s going to happen to them when they’re 20 years old,” Scatena said. “They’ll have to pick a career, they have to be able to use their imagination in everything. It’s very important.”
Scatena said she hopes to continue the tradition for as long as she can.
“I’m always trying to think of something to do. I talk to kids and someone suggested being sprayed with silly string, which was done during the third year of the performance,” Scatena said. “It has to be safe, not cost too much money, and we do it on the steps of the library. If anyone has a suggestion of what they would like for me to do, let me know.”