This year, the organizers of the annual Teddy Bear Sleepover were forced to adapt their event due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
The Children’s Department of the Sault Public Library has been running the event since 2008. Normally, kids are encouraged to drop off their stuffed animals (or other toys) at the Library. When they go to pick up their toys the next day, the librarians have a story set up with all the stuffed animals as characters.
This year, “we decided to go virtual,” said Meredith Bone, children’s clerk. “We put out a call on social media asking them to send a photo of their child’s stuffed toy.”
“We had 18 kids participate, probably about half than normal.”
The Department then compiled and edited all the pictures to tell a story through video, which was published on their social media on Nov, 22. The 2020 story was about a surprise party for the Library’s mascot, Bookie Monster.
“We’re trying to keep that part of it close to what they’d experience in a normal year.”
A copy of the story has also been printed and added to the children’s book collection.
Each year, the story is accompanied by a craft that kids can follow along with. “The craft this year is teddy bear toast,” which uses honey, peanut butter and fruit to form the face of a teddy bear but can easily be modified for different dietary restrictions.
“It’s an edible craft to go with our storytime this year. And I suggested that it’s Bookie Monster who thought of it.”
Bone says that most kids understand that the story is not real but “respond super well” to it anyway. Like reading a work of fiction, they suspend their disbelief and appreciate the story for what it is.
“They know it’s not real but get into it,” she said.
The sleepover tradition started in Sept. 2008. “The current CEO of the library, Matthew MacDonald was initially the children’s librarian.
“It was his brainchild.”
Since then, Bone noticed that many kids (and their stuffies) are participating each year.
In fact, some participants take an active role in the library. The children’s clerk gives the example of the kid who named the library mascot:
“When we initially got Bookie Monster, he had no name, and the child who suggested the name, he would come to the Teddy Bear Sleepover.
“He’s well over the age to participate in the Teddy Bear Sleepover now but he’s still a library patron.”
To Bone, fostering early childhood literacy is the biggest goal of this project. “I think our main focus would be storytelling. Each year, we’re using their own contributions to create a wholly unique story, not something you can pick up off the shelves.”
She also cites early childhood literacy as an important reason she became a children’s librarian.
Furthermore, she says the program is a fun opportunity to bring kids to the library (either in person or virtually) and maybe have them obtain library cards.
However, with going virtual this year, Bone brings up the new challenge of dealing with online pictures. Sometimes, parents send in photographs with their kid’s face or other personal identifiers.
In those cases, the library staff gets “permission and if we don’t have a signed form on file we don’t use the picture at all.” Nevertheless, Bone says she personally corresponds with most parents and asks them to send a picture of the stuffed animal alone.
And for kids who missed the Sleepover but still want to be involved, the Library is planning a winter reading club this Jan.