As the time for the morning reading of the “Bunny Cakes” picture book approached, the seats in the library’s basement auditorium were nearly full of wriggly 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds fiddling with their paper crowns shaped like bunny ears.
“I love bunny ears,” said Willa Steilen, 4, happily when she got hers. “Bunny ears are so bunny-ish!”
She and about 300 others from the prekindergarten program walked with their teachers about eight blocks from the Bennett Park Montessori School to the Central Library at Lafayette Square for this year’s “Read for the Record,” an annual international reading effort led by the Boston-based Jumpstart organization that trains volunteers to work with preschool children in low income neighborhoods.
While the group said last year’s tally of 2.46 million reading the same book on the same day was a record, this year the Buffalo library had its own unusually high count for the story about rabbits making a birthday cake.
Last year about 50 came. This year’s story for very young children drew even more, said Brian Hoth, librarian manager of the children’s section of the library.
“This year I decided to go big,” Hoth said. And fuzzy.
Hoth was wearing a pink and white bunny suit he ordered on Amazon last week. A small spot on his glasses fogged up. “It’s getting warm,” he said.
Hoth walked on the stage in his white bunny suit and the children stared.
He asked who wanted to break the reading record. A chorus of, “Me!” came from the young crowd.
Library Director Mary Jean Jakubowski, sat on the edge of the stage to read the book by Rosemary Wells, as the book’s pictures were projected on a screen behind her. Children followed along, calling out the cake ingredients on the shopping list the big sister rabbit, Ruby, gave her little brother, Max.
The story ended with two cakes, one raspberry frosted by Ruby and one made of dirt and worms and “red-hot marshmallow squirters” by Max.
One young reader, engrossed in the story, said, “Oh, I want that pink cake.”
After that, librarians played a cartoon of the story and led the young crowd to do the “bunny pokey” and jump along to an old black-and-white movie clip of dancers doing the bunny hop.
For Willa, some of the best parts were the “hopping” and when Max made his earthworm cake.
Teaching assistant Phyllis Walter grinned to watch it all, surrounded by children, in a back row. Clearly, gathering so many kids together for the bunny story was a good idea. “They love this,” she said. “It’s a great way to start the morning ... I think the bunny ears helped.”
As the children walked out of the library and headed back to school, Hoth stood on the sidewalk and waved. Kids waved back, calling to him by name of the boy bunny in the story.
“Bye!” “Thanks!” “Bye Max!”
Hoth was happy. It was great to see them have this much fun at the library. Everything, including his warm disguise, worked.