Bookmark: Sumner librarian Marleene Bazela

Sumner librarian Marleene Bazela is keenly aware of the magic of books, and she runs her library accordingly.

Her reading nook is a wonderland of literary love, where kids stop by for the books and stay for the ambience. There are posters singing the praises of the written word, tables and stools where kids can hunker down, and a cozy couch strewn with teddy bear pillows where Ms. Bazela presides during read-aloud presentations.

Her headquarters has been further enlivened with seasonal decor: candy corn-colored fairy lights, autumnal knick-knacks, and a burning candle filling the room with a pumpkin scent.

It’s small wonder that Ms. Bazela, who is in her 21st year at Sumner, was recently awarded with the Claremont Unified School District’s Spotlight on Excellence Award, an honor given annually to a classified staff member who has made an exceptional contribution to education in the district. 

“I like everything about the library,” said 11-year-old Aymen Taleb, who was picking up the first installment of the popular Hunger Games series. “I like all the pictures and whatnot, the smell—everything.”

Ms. Bazela’s personal reading tastes run to historical fiction rather than sci-fi, but she read the first Hunger Games title herself before putting it on her shelves.

“After reading it, I saw that there was some violence but it didn’t feel inappropriate,” she said.

The Hunger Games also has the advantage of being a trilogy, which means that kids who read the first book are likely to read all 3. Series are an increasingly popular format among young readers, Ms. Bazela noted.

“I think kids like them because they don’t end,” she said.

Her point was underscored by 11-year-old Michael Gonzales, who stepped into the library to return an installment of Dav Pilkey’s humorous Captain Underpants series and to check out the first book in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series. A spin-off of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, the Heroes books chronicle the efforts of 7 demigods to stop Gaea, a malevolent goddess of the earth, from gaining control of the planet.

Michael, a 2nd degree black belt, had browsed through a copy of the book belonging to a fellow student in his martial arts class and got hooked.

“Sometimes I’m forced to read, but now I really like it,” Michael said.

It’s pretty easy to find popular fiction titles, which have a prominent place in the Sumner library. Locating books on other topics may take a touch of sleuthing. There is still an old-fashioned wooden card catalogue cabinet gracing the Sumner library—which Ms. Bazela can’t bring herself to get rid of—but it’s used more as a history lesson for the kids. Nowadays, Ms. Bazela shows students how to find what they need via the library’s computer system.

Instilling a bit of self-sufficiency in her visitors makes her job easier, she said. “Otherwise, there’s a little trail of ducks behind me, asking, ‘Where are the monkey books, the dolphin books, the Star Wars books?’”

Just because she likes having her ducks in a row, however, doesn’t mean that Ms. Bazela finds kids to be a bother.  

“I love being around children every day—their precociousness, their silliness, their funny comments. It’s such an honor to be recognized for something I love so much,” Ms. Bazela said.

One way to get to know someone quickly is to ask them about their reading habits. Ms. Bazela reads widely, with a professional emphasis on children’s books and a personal emphasis on novels that whisk the reader away to another time and place. Books that have enchanted her in recent times include Memoirs of a Gesha, The Girl with the Pearl Earring and Those Who Served, which were set in pre- and post-World War II-era Japan, 17th century Holland and the American Civil War, respectively.

The protagonists of a couple other books to recently catch Ms. Bazela’s fancy have hailed from India. She recently reread “The Life of Pi,” which tells the tale of a family of Indian zoo-owners who decide to move to Canada. Their ship, laden with the entire family and their menagerie, capsizes and the only survivors are 14-year-old Pi and the tiger. Boy and feline share a lifeboat until they reach safety.

“It’s just fascinating and not anything I would normally read, but I loved it so much, I really wanted to read it again,” the librarian said, noting that the book changed her attitude towards zoos, which she’s always been opposed to.

“I never realized that animals that live in zoos are actually better off for the most part. They have shelter, they have food, and they’re not in danger of being killed,” she said. “I still could never bring myself to go to a zoo, though, to see an elephant incarcerated like that.”  

Ms. Bazela, who was fond of the Bobsy Twins and other youthful sleuths when she was growing up, cites Pride and Prejudice as her all-time favorite book. She said she can read the classic romance over and over and, although she’s not a big movie fan, the film adaptation starring Keira Knightly holds a permanent place of honor on her DVR.

“I love the fact that there are strong women in the story, and that’s really what Jane Austin wanted to point out, even all those years ago when women were supposed to be demure and not speak their mind,” she said. “I also love finding out how society worked back then—how women couldn’t own land and how, if there were only girls born to a family, the land went onto the next closest male relative.” 

For Ms. Bazela, who spends much of her personal time combing the Internet for inexpensive children’s books, which she buys with her own money, reading is about sharing. She draws great inspiration from Anna Quindlen’s Short Guide to a Happy Life and Being Perfect and, over the years, has probably given copies of the books to 25 friends and family members.

“She’s one of those people who write books that are very spiritual, that tap into your thoughts about how to embrace yourself and love yourself and don’t worry about the small stuff,” Ms. Bazela said. “I reread them 2 to 3 times a year and it gives me a lot of inspiration to go, ‘Wow, how lucky am I?’”

She also draws inspiration from her favorite quote, coined by Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” 

It has always resonated with Ms. Bazela, who feels deeply fortunate to spend her days among books and children.

I just thought it was so interesting. It felt like it was written specifically about me.”

—Sarah Torribio


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