Reading Rooster encourages literacy

Helen Fellers remembers sitting around the supper table as a young child in Charlotte, listening to her parents and her older brother talk about books they were reading.

“I wanted to grow up so fast so I could be a part of it,” said Fellers, the coordinator for the S.C. Center for Children’s Books and Literacy at the University of South Carolina. “My mother gave me that love of reading.”

It’s a love that has never wavered, through 50 years of being employed in library and literacy work. Fellers was honored this month with a Literacy Leaders Award from USC’s School of Library and Information Science for a career that started as the Richland County Public Library’s Bookmobile driver in the 1950s. Today, she is known as the Story Lady and the Reading Rooster, the name of a popular monthly book review and recommendation program on YouTube and S.C. ETV.

“What I love about this profession is how empowering it is. You put a book in the hands of a child and you’ve opened a whole new world for them,” Fellers said. “Children can have a lot of problems – shyness, moving, time in the hospital, divorce. Books can help them deal with all of that.”

During her career, she has been a branch librarian, the director of learning resource centers at two technical education colleges, and she coordinated children’s programming at Barnes and Noble and the S.C. State Museum. At the SCCBL, she manages the collection, leads story times for neighborhood preschools and teaches a children’s materials class to undergraduates in the School of Library and Information Science.

“Helen Fellers has such a vast amount of knowledge. She understands how to reach people with great stories and has, over the years, impacted the lives of many, many people,” said Kim Jeffcoat, executive director of the S.C. Center for Children’s Books and Literacy. “It is such a pleasure to work with and learn from her at SCCCBL.”

Throughout it all, Fellers has encouraged an appreciation of imagination found in the printed word. It’s an appreciation she sees on the faces of the young children when she leads a story time for a neighborhood preschool.

“I never raise my voice and they sit with their darling little faces,” Fellers said. “I try to get them involved in the story. We go back and forth and they act out the story. It’s all just so adorable.”

The best part of her job? “It’s hard to say. I love it all.”

About the Literacy Leaders Awards

Established in 2007, the awards recognize individuals or organizations that had a statewide impact on literacy in South Carolina. USC’s School of Library and Information Science honored the winners at the S.C. Center for Children’s Books and Literacy. This year’s recipients are:

  • Helen Fellers, a long-time librarian known as the state’s Reading Rooster who manages the collection at the S.C. Center for Children’s Books and Literacy and leads story times for neighborhood preschools

  • Jane Thomas, recently retired as the executive director of the Greenville Literacy Association, a leader in delivering basic literary instruction to adults in Greenville County. Greenville Literacy ranks nationally among the top 3 percent of adult literacy programs.

  • Trident Literacy Association, which serves 2,000 students each year in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Programs include adult basic education, computer skills, ESL, GED prep, civics classes, WorkKeys job skills and special programs in family literacy.

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