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Engaging young readers to explore the world through words

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Nora Yates gets her first taste of how much fun books can be. (photo by Kelle Barfield)

For most people, retirement means turning off the alarm clock and relaxing the days away. Vicksburg native Kelle Barfield is not most people.

Barfield’s resume includes a degree in magazine journalism and a move to New York City for positions at Doubleday-Dell Publishing, Random House and Southern Living. She returned to Vicksburg in 1986 and began her position as a technical editor of nuclear procedures at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station. She was planning to finally retire in 2018, when she learned that the founder of Lorelei Books was also retiring, and Vicksburg’s only local bookstore would close.

“Every town needs a bookstore!” Barfield said, so she purchased the restoration-era building and is spending her retirement continuing the legacy of Lorelei.

Vicksburg’s younger readers are grateful she did.

“My father was a voracious reader with an incessantly curious mind. My inherited DNA loves literacy and learning as much as the air I breathe,” Barfield said. Because of this, she tries to instill her love of exploring the world through books in the children that visit her store.

Before the pandemic, Lorelei hosted story readings on Saturdays. The store also offered craft activities, free materials for children to write their own books and hosted guest readers. Children could also participate in a pen-pal program where children write their favorite literary character and get a letter back in the mail.

“Who doesn’t love getting a real letter?” Barfield asked.

She didn’t let the pandemic totally stop her from engaging readers. She created an Easter family drive-by word search challenge downtown. It encouraged children to work with their parents to come up with as many words as they could from letters displayed on large Easter egg posters.

According to Barfield, “Learning should truly be a family activity enjoyed by all.”

Although the pandemic has temporarily stopped some of Lorelei’s programs, Barfield is not giving up. She has been in talks with Marie Cunningham, head of children’s programs for the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library, about a partnership of online reading events as a substitute for in person story time.

Lorelei has set up a YouTube channel and is working out the kinks to present Facebook video posts of readings.

“We had many ideas prior to the pandemic that we’re hoping to establish once it’s clearer what the future holds for online and in person events,” Barfield said.

Barfield also works with organizations such as United Way and Mutual Credit Union to support literacy in schools.

“We recently used a very generous donation to gift 150 books to A.W. Watson Elementary School in memory of Heidi Burrell,” she said. “She was a United Way staffer who we lost in July. I’m prayerful that ‘Heidi’s Hideout’ will offer the joy of learning to even more youngsters in our region.”

In this age of computers, Kindles and internet superstores, Vicksburg’s young readers are lucky to have Lorelei Books and Kelle Barfield’s version of retirement.

Anyone wanting to donate a book to Heidi’s Hideout can call Lorelei Books at 601-634-8624 and arrange to have a book delivered in their name.

Copyright © 2021 Vicksburg Daily News.

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