Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Kids Flock to Books-and-Blades Event with Kristi Yamaguchi

LIBRARY LOVE: Students from the Alum Rock district show their appreciation for Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, who read to them from her children's book 'Cara's Kindness.' Photo by Gary Singh

On a chilly downtown San Jose morning, Kristi Yamaguchi is reading from her children's book, Cara's Kindness, in front of the ice rink that bears her name. Several low-income students, first- and second-graders from the Hubbard Media Arts Academy in the Alum Rock Union School District, sit on metal benches in front of her.

Each kid wears an inflatable hat that resembles an Alaska Airlines plane since that company helps support both the ice rink and the Hubbard Program, the latter of which happens in partnership with the San Jose Public Library Foundation. Vertical Alaska Airlines banners on stands flank the stage area where Kristi sits, as well as the back railing behind the seating area. The wind is kicking in big time.

On the table behind the kids I see gummy bears and Nature Valley granola bars, plus necessary containers of hot chocolate. Within moments, a gnarly wind knocks over the Alaska banners, and as the airline PR people scramble to pick them up, all the kids remain glued to Kristi's words. No one will let the temperamental weather ruin their fun. Plus, we don't get to see an Olympic gold medalist read from her own book in this neighborhood very often, especially one so dedicated to making sure underprivileged kids have access to books—a very worthy cause.

I am flooded with gratitude just standing in the back and watching the event. Since my mom was a career librarian who raised me in libraries and taught me to read at age 2, all of which built a foundation that probably saved me from darker paths later in life, any effort that increases children's literacy, or supports reading or even just access to libraries, gets my support. Too many people underestimate the positive influence of libraries on kids.

Yet Kristi is not the only local skating legend participating in the event. Santa Clara native Polina Edmunds, who represented the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and won silver medals in two US National Competitions, also shows up to read for the kids. In Polina's case, she reads from All You Need is Love, a children's book based on the Lennon-McCartney tune of the same name. The song lyrics accompany illustrations by Marc Rosenthal. Polina reads the lyrics and flips through the pages for the kids to see. Also present is KNTV news anchor Jessica Aguirre, who reads from "You're My Little Christmas Wish."

The readings unfold in two sessions. The first group of kids listens to the women celebrities read while the other half migrates over to the SJ Public Library's Maker Spaceship, which is parked along Market Street in front of the ice rink. A 39-foot bus converted into a mobile technology workshop equipped with three solar panels and running on renewable diesel, the Maker Spaceship includes laptops, 3D printers, laser cutters, desktop CNC telescopes, video production suites and much more. It's designed to help kids to learn about STEM-related activities and overcome any obstacles they might have with technology. It's a rocking piece of work. If you think library resources are limited to books on shelves, well, step into the 21st century. Please.

Eventually, Polina then performs on the ice with several children, including Kristi's daughter, after which Kristi herself takes to the ice and shows many of the kids how to skate, or at least balance themselves. The Sharks mascot, SJ Sharkie, eventually shows up to join in, as does someone in a Santa costume, although the kids seem way more interested in Sharkie. When the mascot has to leave, the kids are bummed out.

Before, during and after all of this, newscasters, print reporters and city employees invade the scene to take gratuitous selfies with Kristi, as always. Since I'm a back-of-the-class kind of dude, I keep my distance, but as I watch the event unfold, I look across the ice rink at the San Jose Museum of Art, the building that used to be the San Jose Public Library, where my mom worked in the 1960s, before I came along. Internal forces are showing me the power of libraries and the effects of gratitude. And it's working.