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Fancy footwork brings back Books in Motion with a digital spin

Books in Motion

Members of Polynesian Spice teach viewers the choreography of a dance inspired from Karma Wilson's "Hilda Must Be Dancing." This is part of the Books in Motion, the free literacy program that encourages reading through dancing. This is the first year that the program has been entirely online.

The free literacy program Books in Motion returns to get kids dancing, crafting and reading this time with an online twist.

Created as a joint effort of the Kern Dance Alliance, Kern Literacy Council and Kern County Library, the program combines dance and reading, offering a different angle to books that could help some young readers. The videos will be shared on Kern Dance Alliance's YouTube channel.

"You can look at someone dancing and see the story through it," said Andrea Hansen, KDA president.

With Books in Motion, a children's book is read and then a dance piece is performed; the children are then taught the choreography so they can try it themselves. The project is wrapped up with an arts and crafts project. early readers will watch a dance interpretation of beloved children's books performed by KDA dancers, learn the choreography themselves and complete a book-themed craft. At the end, kids will be split into small groups to discuss what they learned.

Videos will be led by members from Kern County dance organizations including Bakersfield City Ballet, McLaughlin Dance Collective/Civic Dance Center, Polynesian Spice and Spotlight Dance Academy.

The books are easily accessible and usually lend themselves to fun and creative dances. This year will feature children's books like "12 Dancing Princesses," "Elephants Cannot Dance" and more.

This is the fourth year for Books in Motion but the idea came about 15 years ago during Hansen's days as a grad student at the University of Arizona. The program, in its current form, started when Sherry Wade, the regional librarian with Kern County Library, reached out to the Dance Alliance to see if a partnership was possible. In the past, the program has given out 2,000 books to children throughout the county.

Free craft kits are available while supplies last and can be picked up at seven Kern County library locations (see sidebar).

The free books are available for curbside pickup but for even easier access all books are accessible through the library's online hub at kerncountylibrary.org/elibrary, Wade said.

When aiming for an online audience, the dancers got creative with camera angles and editing to keep the videos as exciting as possible.

"The dancers have to put on their dance-for-film hat," Hansen said. "You have to think beyond the stage."

Kern Literacy Council has been involved since the beginning. This year, the group donated books to the organization with the goal of getting more books in homes, said Laura Wolfe, the executive director for the Kern Literacy Council.

The program is geared toward early readers between kindergarten and third grade, which is a crucial time for learning to read.

A 2019 study from the Kern County Network for Children said that across all grades, 49 percent of Kern County students in 2017, compared with 51 percent in 2016, met or exceeded the English language arts and literacy standard. Kern County has a literacy rate of 8 percent less than the state average, Wolfe said.

Reading proficiency at third grade is an indicator of the likelihood of high school graduation, Wolfe said.

"Our goal is to get more books in the home of kids," Wolfe said. "It's something special to have a book as your own."