In October, Alicia Moore of Liberty wrote a letter describing how much she admired her local library. She had no idea the letter would take her all the way to the White House.
Today, the entire Moore family will join two Mid-Continent Public Library officials in Washington as first lady Michelle Obama awards the library district a national medal.
“I can’t believe Mid-Continent chose us to be there,” said Moore, who will attend with husband Michael and their children, Katie and Jackson, whom mom home-schools using the library system’s resources. “I feel like the lucky person who got the golden ticket.” The White House ceremony for the 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Service is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. today. It will be streamed at www.whitehouse.gov/live
The Moores’ journey to Washington began when they chose to make a branch of the Mid-Continent system their own. When moving to the Kansas City area in 2011 after having long home-schooled their children, the Moores looked for a good library with the same urgency they looked for a home. Even when so much instructional material can be found online, they believed a library represented a bedrock source of community where their children could find like-minded peers, expert feedback from library staff members and, yes, books. The family’s “home” branch is the Liberty branch at 1000 Kent St., and it was clear on a recent afternoon that the two children treat it as such.
Jackson, 9, perched in a chair his own size, his face fixed on a computer screen. His sister Katie, 11, sat on the floor, her back against a bookshelf and volumes scattered about her.
As Moore had explained in a nominating letter to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which is presenting today’s awards at the White House, she felt it important that her children own the personal enrichment process, accessing library resources in a direct, hands-on way. She achieved this in a most literal way last semester when she introduced what she called the “Caldecott Challenge.”
That involved her family and four others reading all 76 books that had received the Caldecott Medal, an annual honor given by the American Library Association to an American illustrated book for children.
The task involved heavy lifting. After a branch librarian pulled all the books, each family took bags filled with about 15 and then — after all those volumes had been read — rotated that bag to the next family while picking up a new one.
Several parents, Moore said, enjoyed the upper-body workout. Once the challenge was completed, her kids posted impressions of their favorite books on the Mid-Continent website’s Homeschool Blog.
Jackson’s favorite illustration in “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” he wrote, “was the picture of the giant train clock on the wall. If you look closely, you can see Hugo’s eye peeking through the number five.”
Katie liked “The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses,” adding that her favorite picture “was at the end of the story where two horses were drawn into the sunset.”
The Moores have no quarrel with traditional schools. Moore served for two years as a speech pathologist for Columbia (Mo.) Public Schools.
Home-schooling, she said, represented flexibility. Moore’s husband, a clinical psychologist, sometimes stayed on the road for months, helping to lead training sessions at hospitals.
“He was going to be gone, and I would be working full-time with the kids in day care,” Moore said. “I told him, ‘Our children may never see their parents.’ ”
So they started home-schooling Katie and Jackson. She resolved to stick with it, including after her husband accepted an administrator’s position at the Kansas City VA Medical Center.
There may be close to 2,000 home-schooling families across the Mid-Continent system, said Shari Ellison, youth services manager. More than 1,700 home-schooled children and teenagers participated in the system’s summer reading program last year. From July 2012 through April 30, the Mid-Continent system had offered close to 600 programs for about 5,000 home-schooled children.
The Moores have made a point of seeking out all 30 of the system’s branches, traveling the Mid-Continent trail through Clay, Platte and Jackson counties, and signing up for programs in many of them.
“We don’t put ourselves in the role of educators; it is the parents’ job to do that,” said Ellison. But parents, she said, routinely seek out books and other materials to supplement their own instruction.
The Mid-Continent system is one of five libraries being honored today. The system received six tickets to the White House event. Four went to the Moore family.
“When we thought about their home-schooling experience, it made perfect sense,” said Steve Potter, library director.
To Katie and Jackson, their trip to Washington this week represents one more of the several field trips they have taken to cities where their father has been assigned, sometimes for weeks at a time.
During their last visit to Washington, both admired the singing fish displayed at the Crystal City Metro subway gift shop in suburban Virginia, just across the Potomac River in the nation’s capital. This week, they will be staying in the same nearby hotel.
For the record, Moore said, her children have visited many Washington cultural institutions, among them all the Smithsonian museums.
“But what they talk about is the singing fish,” Moore said.
The White House ceremony for the 2014 National Medal for Museum and Library Service is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. today. It will be streamed at WhiteHouse.gov/live.
The Kansas City Public Library and the Johnson County Library also have won the National Medal, in 2008 and 2005, respectively. Both offer school children live access to tutors through their websites, KCLibrary.org and JocoLibrary.org.