In placing chldren’s libraries in the spotlight, ‘Tomás and the Library Lady’ runs through Feb. 22 at Florida Studio Theatre.
Opening the doors to a children’s library is like climbing into a wardrobe that leads to a magic world, running through a brick wall to a hidden railroad platform or walking across the bridge into an imaginary land.
It’s a space that provides an opportunity for a child to learn and grow, said Andrea Dictor, the director of youth services for Sarasota County libraries.
With 10 libraries in Sarasota County, each spot offers a chance for children to discover the latest book, play with robots, use a 3D printer or learn to sew.
“Librarians are there to be the stewards of this new information that you have and to learn alongside you,” Dictor said. “Our profession is trying to figure out the best way to get your solution. … Instead of leading from the front, we really like to be beside you [as you learn].”
Dictor said libraries not only help the children but also provide a space for families that are looking to build a community of people who might have similar interests or experiences and can help one another grow.
“It’s really important for children to see people outside of their parents as caregivers for them to develop relationships with adults, people of different ages,” she said. “And that is what the public library does.”
That’s one of the themes of the play “Tomás and the Library Lady” at Florida Studio Theatre, which runs through Feb. 22.
The production, which was adapted from a book based on the life of Tomás Rivera, follows a boy (played by Pedro Leos) who is the son of migrant farm workers during the 1940s as they travel from Texas to Iowa.
One day after story time with his Papa Grande, Tomás realizes he’s already heard all of his grandfather’s stories, so he’s urged to visit the library. There he meets the Library Lady (played by Megan Piggott), who helps him track down books that might interest him.
Over the summer, Tomás and the Library Lady become friends. She helps Tomás feel welcomed in the new city, and he teaches the Library Lady Spanish.
“The Library Lady kind of opens up [Tomás’s] mind,” Leos said. “One of the things he asks the Library Lady is, ‘Am I allowed to come into the library?’ And she says, ‘Of course you are,’ like, it’s a public library, and everyone’s welcome.”
The production has moved outside the walls of the theater to bring the play to schools across Florida and help open a dialogue about acceptance and friendship.
Performed in a mixture of English and Spanish, the play provides an opportunity for students who might not always feel like they see themselves in TV shows or books, said Caroline Kaiser, FST director of children’s theatre.
“I hope that children know that there are adults who care about them and want to help them, [especially] if they’re struggling with something,” Kaiser said.
“I’m also hoping that they can see in the way that Tomás and the Library Lady care for each other — even though they do come from different cultures — that they can take that back into their own lives and think about the kids in their school.”