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Library uses chess, puppets to lure kids

Children of all ages will find comic and educational entertainment as the Jimmie B. Keel Library kicks off Children's Book Week.

In addition to displays that will highlight children's favorite reading selections, audiences can enjoy a musical puppet show Wednesday evening and an exhibition Saturday afternoon by a nationally acclaimed chess master.

Wednesday's show begins at 7 p.m. with Fifi and Bob Killian performing patriotic and folk favorites with their marionettes and hand puppets. The two, forming the group Puppetrix, have performed all over the United States, and Bob Killian recorded with the legendary vocal group, Peter, Paul and Mary.

Chess master Mark Ritter visits the library on Saturday at 2 p.m. The Tampa Chess Club bills Ritter as the No. 3 active chess player in the state, and one of the nation's top 100 players. He will play against 20 children, ages 8-12, at the same time. Observers do not have to register, but interested players must register in advance by phone or at the library's reference desk.

The week's activities are just the latest special programs at the 9-month-old library at 2902 W Bearss Ave.

"We run programs like these because we want to get the kids in here, and ultimately we want to get them reading," said Stephanie Losurdo, branch head at Jimmie B. Keel. "If you make children readers, they'll be readers the rest of their lives."

Since its Valentine's Day opening, the library has hosted Kumba dancers for Black History Month, puppet shows for April's "Poetry Alive" month and a gala fundraiser to purchase works of art. "Since we weren't a brand new library _ we're really just a new location for an already existing library _ we didn't have the windfall that new libraries get for art work," Losurdo said. "This event raised about $3,000 for us."

No one is certain if it's the drive-through window, the book store, the computer lab, the special programs or the building itself that has made the center so popular.

But the numbers speak for themselves. "At Northwest we used to register about 200 to 300 new members ever month, while here we are averaging 500 new memberships per month," Losurdo said. "And we've increased our circulation from the high 30's to about 60,000 books per month."

The library saw only a brief slowdown after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

"We didn't have any specific program for that, but we did put up a display on grief and loss and dealing with emotional trauma," Losurdo said. All of those books were checked out, she said. "A lot of times people don't want to talk about these things, but they will pick up a book and read about it."

_ To reach Sheryl Kay, send an email to

To learn more

For information on programs at the Jimmie B. Keel Library, call 264-3831.