The Haddonfield Public Library wasn't even officially open yet Thursday, but Dorothy Peppard already had 29 preschoolers' amazingly full attention as she read them tales of animals' wintertime adventures.

Funny voices, inflections, warm smiles - she had the storytelling thing down.

During the next several hours, Peppard, head of children's programs, spun her magic for toddlers, more preschoolers, and a bunch of kindergartners, who got history slipped in with their listening pleasure.

Capping off the day was "Read to a Dog," an activity that helps little ones develop confidence reading aloud. That day, the nonjudgmental listener was Lexi, a gentle Labrador-border collie mix. It's one of many programs Peppard has enthusiastically launched over the years.

"I wanted to be a children's librarian in a public library," said Peppard, looking back. "This is exactly where I wanted to be. Dreams come true, right?"

There also comes a time for new dreams.

After two decades sparking a love of reading in generations of local children, the revered librarian is stepping aside. Her last day is Friday; her retirement goes into effect Jan. 1.

"We're just taking off for a new adventure," said Peppard, a youthful 63.

She and her husband, Jack, a training program manager, plan to sell their Cinnaminson home and move to a community just outside Beaufort, S.C. It's not to be with family; they have relatives in New Jersey, a son in Philadelphia, and another in Washington. A true librarian, she found the area through a computer search for "front-porch communities."

"We feel it's time to live our lives in a different way," she said.

Still, Haddonfield - itself a front-porch community, she is quick to point out - its library, and especially its children will stay in her heart.

"This town, this library. There's something about Haddonfield that just made me feel I was coming home," she said.

"She clearly will be missed," said library director Susan Briant, who has tapped library staffer Jordan Bilodeau as Peppard's successor. "She's been an extraordinarily committed children's librarian."

Before taking the children's job in 1993, Peppard worked part-time as a reference librarian, but then-director Doug Rauschenberger knew her passion was working with children. When the position opened, he was quick to offer it to her.

"She was a completely natural person who talked with, not down to, the children, and equally had a rapport with the parents," said Rauschenberger, who retired in 2007. "Also, she was not afraid of change and embracing new things."

A lover of what she calls "the warmth of a book," Peppard nonetheless has eagerly developed the children's e-book collection.

"In the future, you're not going to have all these stacks of books," she said, looking out over the aisles that have been her domain. "I embrace change. Any form of book that will attract a child is just fine with me."

Peppard credits the Friends of the Library for making her initiative financially feasible, along with Haddonfield parents for their reading support.

Over the years, Peppard has found no shortage of ideas to make the library an important part of children's and families' lives.

"I'm an idea person. I think of ideas all the time. Sometimes it's too much," she said, laughing. "It drives my husband nuts."

She had red accents painted to jazz up the basement children's department and designed the cozy first-floor teen nook and the third-floor loft to make the library more hospitable to tweens and teens.

She partners with local singer/songwriter Sara O'Brien for creative activities. Young library patrons have made their own compact disc and posted a video on YouTube.

About three years ago, Peppard started a group reading-to-babies program that boasts wait lists - and a bubble machine. When a patron with a service dog offered the canine's services, the "Read to a Dog" program was born. Foreign-language programs have been introduced.

To get more children reading during summer, she offered rewards such as movie tickets and visited schools to talk up the fun there was to be had. Participation in the library's summer reading program has nearly tripled.

What lies ahead, she's not sure. She may start an early-literacy program in South Carolina. She also has an idea about becoming a consultant to filmmakers turning children's books into movies. She wants to help them stay true to the original stories.

There is much she will miss.

"I will miss the feeling of fitting a young reader with the right book," she said.

She also will miss seeing the children grow, telling them stories, and the light of wonder in their eyes.

"That's the magic I will miss," Peppard said.

There was plenty of that Thursday morning when the Sunbeams and the Sparrows of Haddonfield's First Presbyterian Church's preschool came in for their last storytime with Peppard.

The children got three rousing readings and a movie; Peppard got a big, children-made thank you card and many, many little hugs.

"We just love her," preschool director Barbara Sewall said. "I've heard them when they come back. They say, 'We love going to the library.' What she's provided is a beginning of learning to love books."

For Peppard, there could hardly be higher praise.

rgiordano@phillynews.com

856-779-3893

@ritagiordano