Today I am remembering Mr. and Mrs. Cronin, who came to the Phillips Brooks Branch of the Boston Public Library in Readville, Massachusetts way back in the 1940’s and to several other branch libraries as well.
The Cronins were an elderly couple who had an incredible collection of stories in
their memories, coupled with a genuine talent for recounting them. Mr. Cronin used many different voices for each of the characters in his stories. Listening to the Cronins gave a child the same warm feeling as sitting in the grandparents' kitchen eating homemade pie with ice cream.
This wonderful couple showed up almost every Wednesday afternoon at the branch library in Readville to share their folklore and myths with all the children of Readville who cared to attend. These story hours, unlike most of those today, were not only for preschoolers. Many of the attendees were in their early teens. It is likely that older teenagers would have liked to attend were it not for peer pressure to not “act juvenile”.
Mr. and Mrs. Cronin introduced us to fairy tales that were off the beaten path of the Grimms and Hans Christian Anderson stories. Through them we found and began to read Andrew Lang’s wonderful rainbow of Fairy Books (The Red, The Green, the Lilac, etc.). They also whetted our appetites for mythology by recounting tales of Australian Aborigines, American Natives, and other cultures, as well as classical Greek myths such as Perseus and Medusa, and
Oedipus and the Riddle of the Sphinx.
Those were the pre-TV days, the days when children came home after school only long enough to change into play clothes, then dash outside to find friends and play
without adult supervision. However, on Wednesday afternoons, the Library called to us. Mr. and Mrs. Cronin were coming, and we were compelled by some unseen force to attend.
The coming of TV, with its tendency to keep us indoors, along with its presentations of not only spoken stories but moving pictures as well gradually weaned even the younger school children away from the story hours. Mr. and Mrs. Cronin ultimately retired and passed into the memory of only a few of us.
Sometime later story hours were revived at the library, but only as a pre-school
activity, designed to encourage the little ones to develop a love for books and
a desire to read for themselves. This is all well and good, but it will never have the impact that story hours for children of all ages had on my generation.
I wonder if there are still any “Mr.and Mrs. Cronins” out there somewhere. If there are, and if they were to institute an after school story hour for children through age 12 or so, would the children come, or would they think it lame?