When we last left our literary hero, Janet McMaster, RN, outpatient practice coordinator for PPMC’s Trauma Center, it was 2017, and she had just filled the shelves of a local school library with new books centered on characters of color. But while these selections sparked imaginations, our knight in shining scrubs wanted to do more. “Once upon a time” wasn’t enough, so she applied for Penn Medicine CAREs funding a fourth time. When her request was granted, she vowed to continue helping young readers develop the skills needed for them to achieve their full potential, proving that this story is far from over.
Every Tuesday afternoon, McMaster swaps her trauma work for library duty at the Samuel Powel School. Tuesdays are the only days that students can borrow books, and McMaster is dedicated to making their short time together count. Given how frequently students recognize her as the “Library Lady” when they spot her in the neighborhood, it’s safe to say her efforts have succeeded. In addition to leading story-time and helping students check out books, she has used her funding to contribute a variety of new, age-appropriate options — all complete with a Penn Medicine CAREs sticker inside.
McMaster volunteers Samuel Powel through the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC). Over three decades, Philadelphia’s public schools transitioned from having trained librarians in every school library to having nearly none at all. WePAC reports that more than a third of adults in the neighborhoods it serves lack a high school diploma, and nearly a quarter can’t read or write at an elementary school level. Lack of access to books and to adults who can encourage early reading can keep these achievement levels low. To empower students to stay in school and provide them with the tools and opportunities to develop literacy skills, WePAC has been reopening school libraries, staffing them with volunteers like McMaster, and filling shelves with circulating books.
The theme for this year’s donation from McMaster’s latest Penn Medicine CAREs grant was healing fiction — stories that children can use to understand confusing or traumatic circumstances and that humanize those who are different. Some of the titles included My Yellow Balloon, which navigates the complicated grieving process, Most People, which responds to the negative news cycle by illustrating the power of kindness, and the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which encourages kids to work through tough emotions.
“I’m grateful for the support I’ve received from the CAREs grant, and I want to give a shout out to the PPMC nurses who have volunteered to help in the library and read stories,” McMaster said. “My favorite part of all this is knowing these kids have the opportunity to check books out and take them home. That lets them make reading part of their life, not just part of school, and something as simple as a Tuesday library visit can help keep them on the right track.”