The popular Hemisfair Story Time children’s book reading series successfully pivoted online back in April, as it became evident that in-person events could no longer be safely held for the foreseeable future.
As holiday time arrives in San Antonio, the virtual series has introduced a new wrinkle. From Tuesday through Dec. 29, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and all 10 City Council members will be featured readers, presenting books via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.
Nirenberg will kick off the series at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, reading Rain Boy by children’s author Dylan Glynn. The book tells the story of a rainy, stormy personality coming to terms with his effect on others and learning to accept “all the emotions of the rainbow” within.
Nirenberg said Monday of his choice, “In particular, I was taken by reading a story on resilience, and on empathy, in the midst of likely the most challenging time anyone has ever experienced in our community.”
The series then continues at 10 a.m. most Tuesdays and Fridays through the end of the year. No readings are scheduled Nov. 27, Dec. 4, Dec. 22, and Dec. 25, but there’s an extra reading on Saturday, Dec. 19, the weekend before Christmas. The full schedule is available here.
Regular reader Ms. Kim will take her usual spot on Nov. 24, in the midst of the series.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) will greet the autumn leaves with Hello, Fall by Deborah Diesen Nov. 13, followed in turn by each of her colleagues reading books they chose from a list provided by Hemisfair or, in some cases, books they chose themselves.
Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), who will read Dec. 8, chose Diego, a bilingual book by Jonah and Jeanette Winter, in part because of its focus on the arts. Following its pandemic-inspired #ParkItAtHome tradition of continuing to offer constructive activities despite a ban on social gatherings, Hemisfair will provide a STEAM-based activity for kids appropriate to each reading. (STEAM refers to STEM, the science, technology, engineering, and math-based approach to teaching, with arts included.)
The book Rocha Garcia chose tells the story of the early life of muralist Diego Rivera, husband of painter Frida Kahlo and among the founders of the Mexican muralist tradition.
“He really helped change how we look at art, and where it gets to go,” Rocha Garcia said. “I thought it’d be a perfect fit, because I think of Hemisfair as a public space for everyone.”
Her thought echoed the sentiments of Thea Setterbo, director of marketing for the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corp., who said “Story Time is for everyone.” The free series is primarily for kids from pre-K level through third grade but is accessible via Zoom to anyone with a smartphone or internet connection, and it can also serve families who have children or young adults with special needs, she said.
Setterbo also said, “Teachers are more than welcome to log in with their class and join us.”
She said Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) visits Hemisfair frequently when his grandkids are in town, and Perry said in addition to reading regularly for Pre-K 4 SA programs, “I’ve got three little granddaughters that I read to a lot.”
Perry will read Dec. 18, and Councilman Manny Pelaez will close out the series Dec. 29. Though December books haven’t yet been selected, Pelaez said, “I would like to choose a story that highlights to San Antonio’s youth the importance of appreciating diversity and remaining resilient in the face of adversity.”
Setterbo said one goal of the Story Time series is to “select the books that have a bigger message than just [being] a fun book, especially with everything going on politically, and in the greater context of conversations that are happening nationally.”
She said she hopes parents and children who virtually attend the sessions will bring what they learn from the books into their family discussions. “We really wanted to challenge ourselves to pick books that maybe not obviously have a social justice or awareness narrative, but that can be a starting point for families to have those kind of conversations with each other.”
Nirenberg said that although his 12-year-old son, Jonah, is beyond being read to by his parents, the mayor and wife Erika Prosper continue to participate in reading programs throughout the city, including the Mayor’s Book Club and Summer Reading Clubs.
“For us, literacy has been such an important part of raising a child, cultivating a fertile imagination, ensuring that creativity is valued,” he said. “Expressing the enjoyment of reading as a family is critically important, so we participate as much as possible.”
Nirenberg also said the Hemisfair location of the series, whether virtual or not, seems appropriate. “And to do it at the heart of the city and in Hemisfair, I think is is symbolic in the middle of a pandemic.”
Registration is required for each Virtual Story Time event, accessible by clicking on each reading event listed on the Hemisfair events website page and following prompts for information.