And for the past 26 years he’s had the grandest time playing with them as the children’s librarian at Glendale’s Grandview Library.
“I love reading to kids. Their eyes, their smiles. I get to play,” said the 67-year-old who is retiring next month.
Bullington is beloved for his theatrics. When he reads to children, which he has done weekly at a pre-school story time at Grandview Library for roughly two decades, he gives each character their own voice. His face crinkles when a character is mad, it widens when they’re surprised. He sways his hands when he has to portray a character dancing or singing.
Sometimes, he even adds props.
For several years he’s read “The Polar Express” at Balboa Elementary School before winter break. He wears a train conductor’s hat as he tells the story of a boy who rides a magical train to the North Pole and meets Santa Claus, who gives him a reindeer’s bell. When Bullington finishes the story he pulls out a bell hidden under his shirt collar and gives it a ring.
His dedication to the characters stems from his experience in acting. He acted in high school — returning to his alma mater, Bellflower High School, in December 2012 to portray Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” when the school was fundraising to revamp their theater. He also acted in community theater during and after college at Long Beach State University.
But for Bullington, reading to children has been the most rewarding acting he’s ever done.
“He’s magic. When he reads, a story comes to life,” said Katherine Loeser, branch manager at Grandview Library. “He’s a showstopper.”
Parents, who listened to Bullington read when they were children, have brought their own pre-schoolers to his story time, Loeser said.
“He is a fixture of the community,” Loeser said. “He really is.”
But there was once a time when Bullington, who lives in Duarte, gave up on working with children. Before his job at Grandview Library, he was a school librarian in Encinitas. He moved north for a part-time job in the Glendale library system as he attempted to become a reference librarian. He was approaching 40 at the time and he felt like it was time for him to have a more serious job. That turned out to be the wrong decision, and when the opportunity came up to apply for a job as a children’s librarian at Grandview Library, he took it.
“I was sucked into working with children again,” Bullington said with a smile.
In addition to reading to children at the library and local elementary schools, Bullington was also a reader on “Treehouse Tales,” a “Reading Rainbow” type program that aired on the city’s public access channel. But that program was canceled a few years ago after budget cuts.
Bullington takes great care to pick the books he plans to read to children. He wants them to have a moral, but not be too preachy.
While he used to love to read “The Giving Tree,” which is about a tree who gives selflessly to her friend, a boy who grows older throughout the book, around Thanksgiving time, he can’t recite the popular book in public any more.
“I cry. I finish the story with a quivering voice,” Bullington said.
But he does still read one of his all-time favorites, “Lizard’s Song,” which tells the story of a blue bear that wants to learn a song from his friend, a green lizard. He likes it so much, he bought himself a copy signed by the illustrator.
Then there’s “Two Cool Coyotes,” a book about two coyote cubs who are best friends, but one has to move away.
Bullington keeps a copy of the book in his bag just in case he gets asked to read to children one more time before he leaves the library.
“That’s my retirement story, if anybody needs one,” he said.
Bullington’s retirement party is planned for Jan. 13 at 6 p.m. at the library, 1535 Fifth St., as part of the Grandview Library’s weeklong 50th anniversary celebration.
Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.
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