After serving as a librarian since 1988, Cindy Brown retired from her job with the Hollister School District at the end of the 2020-21 school year. And Gabilan Hills Elementary School teacher Katie Martinez, for one, is going to miss her.
“I knew when I met her four years ago that I could rely on her,” Martinez said. “She is incredibly patient and whenever I was looking for a specific book, even if she had a room full of kids, she would say ‘come on over and let me help you.’ I have no idea who my new librarian is going to be, and, after Mrs. Brown, that is terrifying to me.”
Brown unintentionally began her career as a school librarian when she returned a library book to R.O. Hardin Elementary and asked if they ever needed parent volunteers.
“It was purely on impulse,” she said. “The librarian grabbed me, hugged me and said, ‘Absolutely.’ I volunteered for two years, and when a position came open, she encouraged me, saying ‘you do everything I do here—you can do this.’ I never looked back.”
Brown started working at Fremont Elementary School, which was located on the property where the new court house stands now and demolished in 2009, then spent seven years at Calaveras Elementary School, and closed out her career with 21 years at Gabilan Hills Elementary.
Besides her regular duties, Brown made a point of coming in early every morning to open the library to anyone who wanted to visit.
“I wanted to be there for families,” she said. “I had games and puzzles along with the books, of course. I made it a welcoming place so nobody had to wait out in the cold for school to start. At first, a lot of the parents were hesitant, but I found a smile and a ‘good morning’ goes a long way.”
Wanting the library to be a safe space for the students, Brown also kept the library open during lunch breaks for kids who wanted to study rather than play.
“I don’t know how she did it,” Martinez said. “She’d have 60 kids in at once and she would somehow govern over the chaos.”
Brown developed an easy rapport with the children and would answer to any color they wanted to call her.
“She was ‘Mrs. Brown,’” said Martinez. “But she could also be ‘Mrs. Blue’ or ‘Mrs. Purple.’ And if a child could not decide, she would answer to ‘Mrs. Rainbow.’
Above all else, Brown enjoyed reading to the classes which came to the library once a week.
“The younger kids would get to hear a story,” she said. “They like funny books or scary books the best. I wanted to make it about what they wanted to read and that would make them excited about getting to check out a book.”
Martinez said that when Brown read, she would tie the story into something in her life or pass on some of her knowledge; “I remember during one reading, she was teaching the kids how to count in German and Japanese.”
Brown said the biggest change she has seen in her tenure was that books have gotten more diverse in representation and subject matter.
“They used to be very one-dimensional,” she said. “The characters were almost always white and the stories were almost always about happy things. The books are so much richer now and better at transitioning kids from picture books to chapter books. Graphic novels have really taken over that job for certain age groups and they keep the children reading.”
Brown is leaving with great reluctance, in part because of ongoing health issues.
“It is very difficult to stop because I loved what I was doing,” she said. “I have seen several generations of students come through here—the assistant principal at Gabilan Hills was one of my kids when she was younger. I’ve had kids in the past tell me they can’t wait to introduce me to their younger brothers or sisters. It has all been a wonderful experience.”
Brown’s favorite books to read to children:
“Bark, George” by Jules Feiffer—“It is for the youngest kids. They get so involved in the story they don’t even realize they are being read a story.”
The “My Weird School” series by Dan Gutman—“These are for third graders. If you have a reluctant reader in your family, these are funny books they might really like.”
“Whatshisface” by Gordon Korman—“I just read this to some seventh graders. It is a well-written book about the kid who just does not fit in.”
“Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen —“This is a good adventure book that kids from third to sixth grade will enjoy.”
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