Grandpa "sells" literacy
Retired Realtor now 'sells' literacy
By Dennis McCarthy, Columnist
"There's nothing more beautiful than the smile of a child."
- Grandpa Sid Conkwright
Grandpa Sid Conkwright has seen hundreds of those smiles as he peers over the top of a children's book that he's reading aloud at the Granada Hills Library.
It could be "Where Have All the Unicorns Gone?" or "Wingless Angels," but it really doesn't matter. Once you've got a child smiling at a book you're reading aloud, you've got the child hooked.
The computers a few feet away in the children's section may have all the modern bells and whistles, but they don't have Grandpa Sid. Only the books in this library have him.
"The kids call him Grandpa Sid and just gravitate to him," says children's librarian Heather Sales. "He's such a sweet man - a tall drink of water who is one of the most popular readers we've ever had in the program."
Conkwright, age 82 and with one granddaughter of his own, is one of the 300 or so retirees who volunteer a few hours a week to Grandparents and Books, a Los Angeles Public Library program that began in 1990.
In recent years, it has been a challenge to attract more kids and volunteers, says Maureen Wade, director of the program.
"Kids today are more tech-oriented. And while that's OK, you need both computers and books.
"Our readers give the kids a personal touch and are instrumental in introducing children to the fun and pleasure of reading and developing their literacy.
"You can just see Grandpa Sid connecting with the kids. He has introduced so many of them to a generation they've never met before. Many of these kids either don't have grandparents or they live far away and seldom see them.
"Sid picks up that book, starts reading and becomes that grandpa they don't have or see," she said.
He arrives at the library every Wednesday afternoon about 20 minutes early to choose the books he'll read. After five years, he knows which ones bring the biggest smiles.
"Many of my young listeners come from immigrant families (in which) English is a new language,"
Sid says. "I've read to youngsters from Afghanistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, Korea, Mexico - you name it.
"I try to teach them pronunciation and the definition of new words. A lot of them bring a small spiral notebook to write all the new words in and look them up in the dictionary later.
"Sometimes, by the end of a few hours of reading, I begin feeling fatigued," Grandpa Sid says. "But then one of the kids will take my hand or lean on my arm, and my fatigue just evaporates.
"At those times, I find it impossible to say goodbye, so I just read on."
After 46 years as a Realtor in the San Fernando Valley, Conkwright never thought he'd be sitting in a miniature chair in the children's section of a library reading "Where Have All the Unicorns Gone" to a half-dozen children.
"I guess I just got lucky," he says, laughing. "One day I saw a little ad in the Daily News about the library needing readers for its Grandparents and Books program, and I thought that sounds like fun. And it is.
"I come home after reading to these kids with a glow, feeling like, 'Oh, boy, ain't life great?' You can't beat that at any age.
"Sometimes I think we grandparents get more out of the program than the kids."
Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749
TO LEARN MORE
For more information about Grandparents and Books, visit your local branch library; call (213) 228-7487; or see www.lapl.org/admin/gab.