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Two decades of delighting kids and parents : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Two decades of delighting kids and parents
Ruth Craver retires after 20 highly entertaining years as library storyteller

by Lyle R. Rolfe


To many of us, the employees in our public libraries are people who walk around holding a finger to their lips indicating we must be quiet.

But that has not always been the case at the Oswego Public Library District's downtown Oswego Campus.

When Ruth Craver donned her hat and began reading and acting out kids books such as the "Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss, the library came alive with the laughter of children and adults enjoying themselves.

Craver's regular job since joining the library about 20 years ago has been in the library's youth department, reference department, and wherever else someone might need help. But she had the most fun when entertaining the kids.

Unfortunately, Craver acted out her last program earlier last month and attracted more than her usual crowd of kids and bigger kids-meaning their parents. Her last day as a library employee was this past Sunday, Dec. 29.

Any time Craver performed she drew a crowd because the children's department is located just inside the main entrance to the library so everyone coming and going could see her in action and hear the joyful laughter of kids having fun.

Craver's career began before she was married, teaching third and sixth graders in the Chicago Public Schools. After getting married, her husband took a teaching position at St. Francis High School in Wheaton and they moved to the area. When their three children, all boys, were old enough she began substitute teaching in the elementary grades for the Oswego School District.

"I've always loved the library so I began working here about 20 years ago and have really enjoyed it," Craver said.

During her time at the library she has presented many activities with children, including story time, craft projects and "construction" programs with Lego blocks.

Children's story time was at least once a week, and sometimes more, she noted.

There's a bit of an artist in her as well. Craver drew and painted all the props she uses for her "Green Eggs and Ham" and other stories she tells.

All of this is really a carryover, she says, from her teaching days when she often read to her students. And, of course, her three children were usually the first ones to hear new books when she found them.

"I don't have a favorite age group. I like them all," she said.

When asked about her adult audiences she said some of them are second generation.

"I've been here for 20 years so a lot of the children I started reading to are now adults coming in with their own kids," she said.

After Craver read several books at her last performance, she donned the tall red and white hat and was joined by Mary Stevens, a fellow library employee in the youth department.

Craver said she and Stevens began performing "Green Eggs and Ham" years ago on Dr. Seuss' birthday and it's still the kids' favorite.

Stevens, a former pre-school teacher, said she and Craver not only worked together, but two of their sons were in second grade together.

Stevens became Craver's partner for telling the Dr. Seuss story with props.

While wearing her Dr. Seuss hat, Stevens reads her part of the program while Craver goes from memory pacing in front of the kids, while switching from one prop to another as she talks about each item.

However, the program doesn't always go as planned. At times Craver would grab the wrong prop, or miss a page in the book getting strange looks from Stevens and evoking laughter from the audience.

"We kind of ham it up," she said with a broad smile.

"The hand-drawn props were taped to sticks and rulers, so they could be reused, but then the schools started asking us to do 'Green Eggs and Ham' for them, so the props are now more permanent,"_Stevens said.

At the end of the program Craver gave everyone some exercise when she played "The Chicken Dance" on her CD player.

Craver said she sang the Hippopotamus song at Oswego's recent Christmas Walk and was told that this was the last time she would sing it-as a library staff member.

If called out of retirement for the Christmas Walk or other library programs in the future, Craver said she'll jump at the chance. Stevens, who started at the library eight years before Craver, will be around for some time to come, ready to partner up with Craver.

When she was done, parents and children gave Craver cards, drawings and many hugs, thanking her for 20 years of fun at the library.

"I guess today was the highlight of my career because they had this wonderful thing for me," Craver said.

She won't be a stranger at the library. "I'll be here at least once a week to get new books," she said, noting that her favorites are mystery.

Library Director Sarah Skilton said she has already asked Craver to come back now and then "just to tell a couple stories. That kind of talent doesn't come along very often."

And she'll be visiting her three sons and grandchildren more often in California, New York and Crystal Lake, she said.

None followed in her footsteps, she said. One of her sons is a professor at Bingham State University, another an engineer for the U.S. Patent Office and another a reporter for the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake.

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