Free Little Library opens its tiny door to reading

A day before summer vacation started, second-graders from Teresa Townsell’s class celebrated. Barely containing pent-up excitement, they enjoyed treats and talked about a good school year.

Their little party wasn’t in a classroom at Everett’s View Ridge Elementary School, but in their teacher’s yard. The Tuesday afternoon gathering was a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Townsell’s students were there to open a Little Free Library outside her Everett home.

“It’s really important that children love literature,” said Townsell, a View Ridge teacher for 27 years.

Kids gathered around the wooden structure next to Townsell’s picket fence at 3318 Rucker Ave. With classmates looking on, a boy snipped a red ribbon so that anyone could open a small door and borrow a book.

The Little Free Library movement, launched in 2009 in Wisconsin, is meant to promote reading and friendship. Built to look like a birdhouse, a Little Free Library has shelves for donated books. Carolyn Johnston, who also has a little library in Everett, designed and built the one at Townsell’s house. There’s a simple rule: “Take a book, return a book.”

On Tuesday, Townsell encouraged 7-year-old Danika Collins to keep a story about the Pilgrims and start her own collection. “All I care about is that you get literature in your head,” the teacher said.

Danika, who brought three books to donate, had been to another Little Free Library. “I really like it, you don’t need a card,” the girl said.

Children also were delighted by their teacher’s garden. Townsell’s 1920 bungalow, with its “Tee Tee’s Cottage” sign hanging over the porch, will be one stop on the Everett Gardens of Merit Tour on Saturday. The event, featuring seven home gardens, is a program of the Evergreen Arboretum &Gardens, and coincides with a plant sale at Legion Memorial Park.

The teacher’s garden is geared toward children. “Tee Tee,” her nickname, is what two nephews and a niece have called Townsell. She calls them “the children of my heart.” Their names are on a treehouse structure in her backyard.

On the other side of the yard is what Townsell calls her “literary garden.” It has signs pointing the way to “the bat cave,” “the Harry Potter Room,” “Emerald City” and “Neverland.” Scarecrows are dressed as Peter Pan and Captain Hook.

Along the south side of her house is Townsell’s “secret garden.” The narrow walkway has a place to sit and read “The Secret Garden” — there’s a vintage copy of the book on a bench. China plates are part of the landscaping, and a sculpture is meant to be Dickon Sowerby, a boy in the book who loves animals.

With parents’ involvement, Townsell has welcomed students to a “haunted attic” at her house for Halloween. On field trips to see “The Nutcracker,” students on the bus have spotted giant nutcrackers that decorate Townsell’s porch, and a Santa and sleigh in her yard at Christmastime. “I’ve had kids who were grown up stop by here,” said Townsell, 55, who taught at Arlington’s old Trafton School before coming to View Ridge.

“Good teachers understand the importance of relationships. Teresa definitely understands that,” said Kert Lenseigne, principal at View Ridge Elementary School. A teacher with National Board Certification and a master’s degree in reading, Townsell was honored as Outstanding Educator at View Ridge this year, he said.

“There was not one day when my son didn’t get excited to go to school,” said Wendy Gutierrez, whose boy, Andreas, was in Townsell’s class.

The Everett School District is emphasizing literacy through a new Summer Reading Challenge, Lenseigne said. Before school ended, kids met with teachers to plan their reading and were given booklets with age-appropriate titles. Lenseigne said all fifth-graders in the district were given the book “Wonder,” by R.J. Palacio. It will be used in their middle school curriculum.

Townsell’s Free Little Library isn’t just for kids. On Tuesday, available books included children’s titles but also literary fiction for grownups — from “Clifford the Big Red Dog” to “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

For Townsell, a little library is about reading and connecting.

“It’s really a lovely thing to have been part of a community for almost 30 years,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Gardens of Merit

The Evergreen Arboretum &Gardens plant sale is scheduled for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday at Everett’s Legion Memorial Park, 145 Alverson Blvd. The Gardens of Merit Tour is 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday throughout Everett. The $12 ticket/guides will be available at the plant sale, or in advance at Sunnyside Nursery, J. Matheson Gifts, Pacific Stone Company and Stadium Flowers. Information: www.evergreenarboretum.com

Teresa Townsell’s Little Free Library is at 3318 Rucker Ave., Everett. Information: www.facebook.com/littlefreelibraryteeteescottage

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