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Dog Ears books and the age-old quest to bring stories to people of all ages

Thomas McDonnell shows Dog Ears Bookstore's corner for the youngest readers
Mike Desmond
Thomas McDonnell shows Dog Ears Bookstore's corner for the youngest readers

A long-time cultural fixture in South Buffalo is continuing its mission to make reading a part of the lives of the people who visit Dog Ears Bookstore.

It’s open for people of all ages and they come from across the city and well into the suburbs and are changing as the community changes. Every weekday, around 60-kids come for the literary events in the building not far from Cazenovia Park. Founder and Executive Director Thomas McDonnell says the organization stresses reading for all ages.

“It's part of our mission. So, as a non-profit organization, we are driven by our programs, our reading and writing programs which is the reason for our existence. We have that whole literary arts center upstairs that we have reading and writing programs for people of all ages, from two-years-old to seniors.”

Each age group is handled a little differently, with the after-school sessions and summer camp to kids through the age groups to a seniors book club. McDonnell says a recent incident involving seventh and eighth graders and reading S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders.

“The next day, they came in half-and-half. Half were dressed as Socs. The other half were dressed as Greasers. And, because they loved the book so much, they wanted to surprise us. Friday afternoons are the fun day. We finish up our exercises on Friday morning and then we have a pizza and then we show the movie. They sat on opposite sides of the room. They made faces at each other. So, those are kids who want to be here.”

Even with computer screens and cell phones, McDonnell says little kids want to read and learn about their world.

“Pre-k, K, First Grade, they're not reading different books. There are different books out there. Sure, they address everything. They address every issue,” McDonnell said. They address sickness, every buzz word you can think of, there are books out there. Someone has written that book. For little kids as well. They're tried and true. The world goes back to the old classics.”

Their older siblings get a little different treatment, when a books is assigned to them.

“They have to read Page One. And then, we come back 15 minutes later and they have to sell that book. Sometimes "sell" means to not buy that book or "sell" means to buy that book. So, it's fun. And, we will pick a book that we're going to read throughout the whole semester. So, we concentrate on the reading aspect of that, Third, Fourth and Fifth, reading to learn.”

McDonnell says books which are passed down through the generations can help each generation.

“You look at "The Catcher in the Rye." Everybody's sitting in a high school class right now across America and they're thinking to themselves: Please don't notice me. Please don't notice my zit. Please don't notice my bad haircut. Please don't notice my big ears. Whatever? They all think they're alone. And, in that story, right there, they point out that you're not alone.”

McDonnell says for each generation, each kid, each book represents that ancient tale of “once upon a time.”

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.