“That train is really arrogant. Do you know what the word ‘arrogant’ means?” Kit Paulin asks the first-graders gathered around her at Steamboat’s Boys and Girls Club. A tall, athletic retiree with spectacles and a chin-length bob, Kit has been volunteering to read stories to BGC kids for the past two years, and today’s tale is The Little Engine That Could. While the kids ponder the fancy engine’s arrogant refusal to pull loads of toys over the mountain, they play with the stuffed animals that Kit brought and snuggle into piles of pillows and blankets that she had spread across the floor to make a cozy nest for storytime.

Eight kids have sprawled into the bedding, listening to Kit read and show them each page that she turns. Participation isn’t required, and in fact, three girls have opted to sit apart and build cars and trucks. Three boys playing in the back of the room eventually drift closer to Kit’s voice so they can hear what happens when the little engine agrees to pull the toys.

“If you ever have something hard to do,” Kit tells the group, “I want you to say, ‘I think I can.’”

In a screen-dominated era when many parents struggle to pry their kids away from tablets and televisions, the popularity of Kit’s story sessions seems surprising. They’re as low-tech as entertainment gets, with no animation, music, or touch-screen interaction.

Yet children clearly look forward to Kit’s visits. Their faces brighten when they see her walking through the Club, and they call out asking for her hellos and smiles. “Consistency helps,” Kit admits. She comes to the Club every week in summer; during the school year, she visits every other week. She brings cookies, which everyone—staff and kids—looks forward to. But, she adds, “Reading to kids is so important.”

Kit moved to the Yampa Valley five years ago from central Illinois, where she worked in finance and volunteered at that region’s Boys & Girls Club. She sought out a similar role at her new home in Steamboat, and offered reading because “it was just something I could do,” she explains.

But her vision went well beyond books. From the start, Kit has partnered with various friends and community members who bring a favorite book that can open kids’ eyes to various careers and cultures. Her Ukranian friend Carol Breslau read a book from that tradition and brought elaborately-decorated eggs called pysanky. Matthew Rochon from Routt County Riders read a book about bicycles and demonstrated bike repair.

After each story session, Kit and her companion lead kids through a book-related craft project. For The Little Engine That Could, kids constructed and decorated a train. Sometimes the craft involves costumes, because, Kit notes, “Kids love to dress up.” When chef Susie Mayes joined Kit for storytime, kids decorated chef’s hats and learned to crack an egg.

Kit admits that initially, her storytime sessions didn’t hook kids’ attention. The Club’s loud, boisterous environment didn’t exactly make it easy to lull kids into listening to a story. (As Kit read The Little Engine That Could, staff members’ walkie-talkies blasted communications between Club rooms.) To help tune out distractions, Kit came up with the idea of bringing cozy pillows and bedding, which proved to be a highly effective way to entice kids to settle down and listen. She also buys and brings supplies for crafts.

“I think I have more fun than they do,” says Kit. The kids’ obvious enjoyment is part of her reward. Without grandkids of her own, she indulges her craving for kid-time by reading to first-graders and watching what their imaginations compel them to ask and to build through crafts.

But the kids’ eager attention to each book that Kit opens suggests that she’s not the only one having a great time. Listening to stories still has appeal—especially when that narrator is a familiar, smiling adult that kids can count on.