Anna Ramirez picks up two picture books and sits on a chair in the Central Library children’s Area. Before her, a group of four-year-olds sit in anticipation of hearing a story.
Her mother, Micaela, stands off to the side watching proudly. Anna is on the Autism spectrum, and until she was seven, she would only speak in one or two-word sentences and had a vocabulary of about 20 words. Now at 11, she is an avid reader and book lover.
Micaela gets emotional thinking about how far her daughter has come in the last few years. “Seeing her in these moments, this library has really brought out that happiness for her,” she says.
Anna’s love of reading to children began when her special education teacher encouraged her to read in front of the class.
Now, whether the Ramirez family is at the library, a park, a restaurant, or a store, Anna has a book ready just in case she will get to read a story.
“It is uncanny how children are drawn to her,” Micaela says.
Anna was diagnosed with Autism at the age of four. Before receiving the official diagnosis, the Ramirez family noticed that she was using books as a form of communication. When she wanted juice, Anna would point to an image in one of her picture books. She first learned sign language by watching the Little Einsteins and checking out books from the library.
The Ramirez family moved back to Iowa from California in 2019 and have become regulars at Central Library, coming every Tuesday and Thursday morning.
When I meet Anna, she is wearing a pink dress and a pearl necklace. She walks toward me with a stack of her drawings, and a Barbie doll, and on her way detours to pick up a copy of Peppa’s Cruise Vacation from the book bins.
"My name is Anna. I'm a girl of Des Moines, and I love to draw and reading," she says as she sits down. Within minutes, she begins to read me the story of Peppa the Pig.
Micaela is also an avid reader. She grew up in a small town where the library was the focal point of the community, and first learned English when she was 5 years old by. As a parent, she has been intentional about sharing her love of books and reading.
Micaela homeschools Anna and uses books to help with speech and vocabulary building. Anna is skilled at memorizing stories and has committed many of her favorite picture books to memory.
At Central Library, Anna and the whole family have formed a special bond with youth librarian Samantha Reid (Miss Sam).
"Miss Sam is one of the first people who made us feel welcome in the city since we moved back to Iowa," Micaela says.
Anna sees Sam while we talk and runs up to greet her. She shows Sam some of her drawings inspired by the books she's reading. Sam listens attentively and compliments Anna’s skill for drawing expressive faces.
Sam remembers how important it was for her kids when adults in the community would greet them by name whether that was at the post office or library. She brings that knowledge and experience to her job as a youth librarian at DMPL.
“Everybody needs to feel special and needs to be seen,” Sam says. “It’s impossible not to be friends with Anna because she wants to tell you things, and she wants to ask questions. She always has so many fun things to say and tell you about.”
When I ask Anna why she likes to read to groups of kids, she responds matter-of-factly.
“I love the little ones,” says Anna.
The DMPL Community Spotlight series is a new blog series featuring the stories of members of our library community, and the positive impact the library has had on their life.
Last Modified October 01, 2023