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(Mostly) impenetrable reading fortresses pop up

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By Cameron Small
Hometown Weekly Intern

What do you get when you mix blankets, flashlights, rampaging children, stuffed animals, and smiles? You get the Family Fort Night event held at the Main Branch of the Westwood Public Library last Wednesday night, August 17.

Like most things that are planned out, things did not go exactly as planned. The idea originally was for the children to build a fort with the assistance of their parents, and then quietly read inside it.

Instead, the parents primarily built the forts while the children ran around the children’s section of the library, or designed signs for their forts, or both. Upon completion of the forts, the children would again run around the children’s section, occasionally crawling into a fort, regardless of whether or not it was technically “their” fort. The usual expectation of “quiet in the library” seemed not to have come in this family evening, as children shrieked in delight, running laps between the stacks of books, blankets tied like superhero capes around their necks.

This isn’t to say that the children were noisy and loud for the full time of the event. They were quiet for five to ten minutes at a time when they were able to coax an adult to crawl into the fort to read them a story. With the forts strategically built between the rows of bookshelves, most of the adult story-readers would be sitting with their backs against one stack of books and their feet extended against the opposite stack.

Also on display was the paradox of a child’s wish to both create and destroy. Rowan, aged 3, kept wanting to add more to his fort, having an alternating pattern of green and blue plastic tablecloths on his fort. Eventually, his “Dinosaur Fort,” built primarily by his father, stretched from one end of a shelf to the other. To contrast this, Thomas, aged 4, crawled inside his fort tucked in a corner for a few minutes. He later crawled out, and promptly undid the clips holding the blankets to a chair, causing his fort to collapse. His father tried to warn him the fort would collapse. Thomas, with the malicious glint a child gets in their eyes when they’re about to do something they know they probably shouldn’t, replied: “I know.”

For children who missed the memo to bring their own stuffed animal, the library had some in reserve. Ollie (short for Oliver) the bear, Peanut the elephant, and Sparkle Dust the unicorn were deployed to the children’s forts by Commander Lizzy McGovern, the Head of Children’s Services. The shelling of the forts by the running children did result in some casualties—Ollie nearly lost his Red Sox jersey, and Thomas lost his socks and shoes, much to his parents distress.

The last time the Family Fort Night was held, over February vacation at the Islington Branch, it seemed more chaotic according to McGovern. It hosted about the same number of kids and families, but in the smaller space, seemed louder and rowdier.

Those wanting to build their own reading forts in the library should keep their eyes peeled for the next time - the fun is sure to be replicated sometime in the future.

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