Making literacy fun
Barb’s Book Buddies offers a cure for screen time woes
Barbara Sanchez stresses authenticity and spontaneity.
photo by stephen gabris
The term “screen time” gets a lot of attention for good reason. According to the Common Sense Census, American children under the age of eight use screen media for an average of two hours and nineteen minutes each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than eighteen months should not use any screen media except for video chatting, and that, until age five, children should be limited to one hour of screen time per day. Statistics such as these are part of the reason that Barbara F. Sanchez, a teacher of thirty years in the Williamsville Central School district, was inspired to found an alternative to children’s traditional media consumption.
Sanchez created a YouTube channel called Barb’s Book Buddies after the idea took root two years ago. As a child, she was enthralled with the children’s television program Romper Room, a story time program that included songs, rhymes, and simple behavioral lessons guided by the host. Armed with her enthusiastic personality, proven teaching techniques, and desire to make a difference, Sanchez launched headfirst into this endeavor.
“I started to see devices becoming more common than books in young children’s hands,” says Sanchez, a native Buffalonian. “At the same time, I realized how many amazing stories were out there by talented authors that needed to be told, which were not being acknowledged through mass publication.” She set to work, acting as an advocate for self-published authors and independent publishing houses, sharing their stories to groups of children eager to hear good books read aloud. She saw an opportunity to connect technology, authors, children, and books. Her primary goal is to instill in children a love of reading and books at an early age.
When you look beneath the surface, the project has a decidedly Buffalo feel. Several of her most recent episodes feature local authors and were filmed at the Massachusetts Avenue Project. She works with a local production company, Galora, to create the episodes and local T-shirt company, Bison Logo, to print the T-shirts that her buddies wear. “There are no bells and whistles, there’s no animation,” she says. “To me, that simplicity is wholesome and authentic. That’s how I was raised and, as much as I could, I tried to raise my kids in that respect…It’s so exciting when you take all of that away and you just sit.”
In the spirit of authenticity, Sanchez approaches filming each episode with an openness to spontaneity. Working with children almost mandates it. “Life isn’t scripted. Life isn’t perfect, especially life with children,” she says. “You think it’s going to happen in one way and it goes in another direction. We need to embrace that more.”
During her episodes, Sanchez tries to engage the children in whatever the story features. She expresses all emotion in the story, uses props, and engages as many senses as possible. It’s a tactic she’s employed in the classroom and she knows its effectiveness. “I’m incredibly engaging,” Sanchez says. “What I teach is a hands-on course: family consumer sciences. It’s very multisensory. I’m pretty high energy.”
With a desire to share books that have a message, she selects stories with meanings that will help children with various issues, although Sanchez says entertainment itself is important for young readers—and all readers. If there’s a situation or problem, she finds a book to meet the need. Sanchez also wants to incorporate publishers from other countries and books about different cultures and backgrounds. Working with small publishing houses and independent authors has worked well. She comes across books in her travels, contacts the publisher to receive permission, and moves ahead accordingly. She also researches small publishing houses and connects with them to determine their willingness to partner.
Best case scenario, Sanchez wants to imagine parents getting a book in their child’s hands, and if that is not an option, get them to read along with Barb’s Book Buddies. Sanchez’s ultimate goal is to be a sort of Red Cross for books: “Let’s say there was a hurricane, a bus from Barb’s Book Buddies is sent. That comfort that literature brings—it’s like putting a blanket around you and saying, ‘It’s OK, we’ll figure this out.’ What could be more comforting? If ever I had the opportunity of sponsorship, that’s what I would want it to be. Children in need would hear a story.”