From babies to middle-schoolers, children love to listen to a good book read aloud. And Walter Renzi, a “grandparent volunteer” at the , has been reading to kids every week for the last 12 years.
Renzi, who is known as “Grandpa Walter” to the kids, says you need interest and time to do this work and since retiring from his career as a deputy probation officer working with juvenile offenders, he’s had plenty of both.
I first met Renzi several years ago at the library when I took my own kids there to choose books. Arriving with two, and then three children under the age of 5, it was always a tremendous relief to have a smiling adult there who wanted to read to my kids. Sometimes one of them would read with Walter, while I read or chose books with another. Sometimes they would all listen to him read while I went and chose books for them.
Renzi has a tremendous ability to relate to children and he encourages them to share his love for books. He went through a training course to become a volunteer, a process that took four Saturday sessions, and a background check. In the training, Renzi explained the volunteers learn the intricacies of reading aloud, the importance of pre-reading (so that they can anticipate the story), reading with enthusiasm, using their voices in different ways to make the story entertaining and asking questions during and after the story to help the child comprehend better.
Some of Renzi’s favorite read-aloud books are the “You Read to Me and I’ll Read to You” series, which he can even enlist middle-school kids to do with him. He also likes “Peek-A-Boo” books for the youngest children, and classics with rich language like Dr. Seuss and Jack Prelutsky.
“I’ve read many of these books thousands of times. I’m as enthusiastic now about this as I was 12 years ago,” Renzi says with a laugh.
Renzi sees children from many different backgrounds at the library and takes great satisfaction in inspiring them with his own love of books. He also enjoys getting to know the children who return week after week and even year after year.
He recalls one occasion when he was reading a picture book to a little girl while her mother looked on. The mother began to tear up as he read and when he finished he asked her what was wrong. The mother said her own mother had died recently and that she had imagined her mother reading with her daughter, and that watching Renzi read to her made her miss her own mother terribly.
One little girl, Wendy, whom Renzi fondly recalls, used to come to the library with several of her younger cousins. Renzi says he remembers reading to her until all of a sudden she was reading to the younger cousins with all the expression and energy he used himself. Now a senior at Venice High School, Wendy's a library assistant herself and is planning a career as a teacher.
Renzi says many parents leave their children to read with him while they go and use the library’s computers and reference materials to look for work or improve their own skills and knowledge.
He was relieved and pleased that (the recent ballot measure that increased the Los Angeles Public Libraries’ guaranteed funding) passed last month, because it will restore hours that had been cut and give people back the valuable time they need at the library.
I'm profoundly grateful that Renzi and the other library volunteers are willing to give their time to children and their harried parents from all walks of life who come to the library looking for a good story.
Renzi volunteers at the Mar Vista Branch Library every Wednesday from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. and five other volunteers help to fill out the program on other afternoons. Renzi says the library system still needs more volunteers, and one need not be a grandparent to help out.