Moments of kindness — My Read Aloud story

Read Aloud volunteers see children engage with books and expand their vocabularies and literacy skills, and so much more.

By Jennifer Bonnette Funk

What might seem like a small act of kindness at first can turn out to have a big and positive impact on someone’s world.

Each week on my day off, I read aloud as part of Read Aloud West Virginia. I read to three classrooms at West Preston School. The other day, I was reading a story to one of the classes rather excitedly with silly voices, as I often do, and one of the students handed me a note. She was so proud to give me the letter and was smiling so brightly.

In the note, she wrote, “Dear Mrs. Funk, you are the best reader and the best voice maker. There are no other persons like you. You are the best of the best.” The note included a hand drawn picture of me reading a book to the class.

It was so unexpected and overwhelmingly sweet. I was so moved by her act of kindness, I wrote her a letter back. In the letter, I said that she had made my day much brighter when I read her wonderful letter. Then, I said that getting to read to her and the other students brings me joy and is the highlight of my week.

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Impact: Volunteers, educators gather to help WV children succeed

By Bethany Kinder and Dawn Miller

Daily read aloud puts children almost a year ahead of children who are not read to every day, literacy specialist Christy Schwartz told a room full of Read Aloud West Virginia volunteers at their fifth annual conference in July.

Schwartz works for the state Department of Education’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading. She and her colleagues support county school systems and teachers to ensure children are reading on grade level by third grade. They focus on school readiness, attendance,  learning opportunities outside of school and high-quality instruction.

“I’m really excited by all the connections and the way that our work corresponds with one another,” she told representatives from local Read Aloud chapters meeting at Stonewall Resort July 23 and 24.

Read Aloud leaders were there to connect and share ideas and inspiration for the coming school year. This annual summit has proven to be an invaluable gathering for the organization and its local groups.

Volunteer readers and school coordinators gathered for Read Aloud West Virginia’s annual conference in July to organize, learn about research, build programs and share enthusiasm.

Schwartz reminded volunteers of the need they fill.

West Virginia has high rates of poverty, and years of research confirm that poverty is a risk factor for many problems, including poor school readiness. Education researchers have zeroed in on oral language skills.

“It is the foundation for literacy,” Schwartz said.

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10 to TRY: Successful books suggested by our volunteers in 2018

“Bring a book to recommend,” participants in Read Aloud’s annual conference were instructed. Then at a good pausing point (or technical glitch, because books don’t glitch, right?) a volunteer would offer a quick show-and-tell. This issue’s book reviews include some of those favorites from around the state:

1. The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak. You may know the author better as Ryan from the TV show “The Office.” Don’t be daunted by the hilarious video online of Novak reading it to a school in New York. But be warned. Here’s a sample: “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.

“No matter what.”

Young listeners wisely get the foreshadowing here and anticipate with giggles.

2. The Big Jump and Other Stories by Benjamin Elkin. This one, originally published in 1958, was recommended by Berkeley County volunteer Casey Wilson because it is one of his wife’s favorites. He read the first of the three stories in the book to a first-grade class, and then closed the book.

A student raised his hand and said, “There are more pages in that book.”

Caught holding out on them, Wilson re-opened the book and read all three stories to the class in that one sitting.

“It’s as different from what’s coming out that’s new and contemporary as it can be, but the kids love it. Don’t be hesitant to pull out the old-timers,” he said.

3. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. Speaking of old-timers, this folktale was first published as the beloved picture book by an avant-garde artist in 1940. It has sold millions and makes a great board book because of the repetitive language suited to small children. If you read it, though, make sure you know what monkey noise you’re going to make when the time comes.


4. What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. A national bestseller this all-ages story and light, inviting drawings explore something anyone can recognize — what do you do with that idea? Sequels include What Do You Do with a Problem? and What Do You Do with a Chance?


5. Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk. This beautiful new picture book traces West Virginia’s recently discovered hero Katherine Johnson, of Greenbrier County, educated at West Virginia State University and WVU, who then worked quietly behind the scenes at NASA doing the math that made space travel possible. It’s aimed at younger students, but it has something to inform and inspire all ages.

6. Henry Builds a Cabin by D.B. Johnson. This is the first in a short series of picture books drawing on specific stories and imagery of Henry David Thoreau. This Henry is a bear who sets about building a cabin in the woods. The sentences are simple enough for little ones to follow, but the book is even better in fourth and fifth grades, where students kick off discussion with  “Why is he doing that?” Or someone insists that no one can build a house for 28 dollars, 12 and a half cents, and we discover the word inflation.

7. Cendrillon by Robert D. San Souci and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. This is another picture book that grows with the students. It’s the Cinderella story, so easily recognizable, but set in the French West Indies, with all the color, imagery and a peppering of French Creole language. Also, it is told from the point of view of the Fairy Godmother, or nannin’.


8. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. A chapter book, this features second-grader Alvin Ho, aka his superhero alter-ego Firecracker Man, who does everything you would expect, except that as soon as he steps off the bus at school he can’t talk. The characters inspire laughs and compassion in listeners. It’s not too young for third grade, where students begged for the next one in the series.


9. Monsters in West Virginia by Rosemary Ellen Guiley. There is something even more suspenseful about allegations of monsters and fantastic beasts just out of sight, if the places they were supposedly spotted are places you know — Grafton, Point Pleasant, Braxton County, for example. A good lure for older listeners.


10. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. “I love the connections we can make between how the author explored different kinds of love, friendship, family love, betrayal, all of these rich ideas and plot twists and things that we can look at together when we read those books,” said Christy Schwartz, literacy specialist with the West Virginia Department of Education’s Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

“There’s a really powerful moment at the end. Every time my students saw me tear up at the end, they thought, ‘Wow.’ They fell in love with the characters, with the author, and they tended to read more books by that author.” This is another one for upper elementary students.

Looking for your next Read Aloud hit? Need to freshen your repertoire?

Scroll through and click around our helpful booklists.


The extra mile: a grab bag of ideas for classroom enrichment

Flashlight Fridays

Lauren Jarroll, a Nicholas County Chapter Board member, discovered a way to shine a light on reading as she was substitute teaching in Nicholas County. She found that each Friday, students in Jessica Martin and Stacy McClung’s classrooms participated in “Flashlight Fridays.” During these Friday afternoons, students were invited to retrieve a flashlight from a special drawer, only to be opened for this activity, and were able to choose a spot in the classroom to sit and read. The teacher would turn out the classroom lights and for fifteen minutes, students read a book of their choosing.

This activity incorporates reading with a fun twist! Allowing students to find a comfortable spot with their own flashlight and chosen book makes the encounter more personal and enlightens students’ reading experiences.


Literary Luncheons

A suggestion from Laura Huffman, Valley View Elementary School in Berkeley County:

“To strengthen the love of reading, I offer my students the opportunity to enjoy a ‘Literary Luncheon’ once a month in my classroom. This is when we spend time together eating lunch and discussing a pre-selected book. At the beginning of each month, I give a short book talk and encourage students to borrow classroom copies of the book to read on their own or with family members at home.

“This project teaches not only reading, but responsibilities as well. Each student who chooses to participate has four responsibilities for Literary Luncheons: read the book, take care of the book, return the book on the day of the luncheon and participate in the discussion. On the last Friday of each month, students are responsible for returning the book in the same condition in which it was borrowed and being ready to discuss what they have read.

“Literary Luncheons provide students the opportunity to develop friendships, refine their speaking and listening skills, and discover the wonderful world of reading.”

Horses, hamburgers and halftimes: everything goes in Boone County

By Sara Busse

From high school football games, to pets, to Happy Meals, the Boone County chapter of Read Aloud is an example of “everything goes” when it comes to promoting reading in southern West Virginia. Chapter President Jennifer Griffith leads the charge with enthusiasm, creativity, generosity and passion.

The Boone group has come up with many new and innovative ways to boost reading, and, in turn, Read Aloud West Virginia, throughout their county. And while Griffith is the epitome of that iconic battery bunny, she realized she couldn’t do it all alone.

“We have a board!” Griffith explained proudly. “It took a while—but we have legislators, sheriffs, a group of ten that’s incredible.” Along with the school coordinators at Brookview, Madison, Sherman, Whitesville and Ramage elementary schools and under Griffith’s untiring leadership, the organization has initiated several exciting programs.

Two board members, brother-and-sister team Chris Connolly and Katie Foster, are co-owners of the McDonald’s restaurant in Madison. It’s no surprise that the omnipresent Griffith is connected to them in other parts of her busy life: her husband coached football with Chris, and she is Katie’s daughter’s piano teacher.

“Chris called me and said he wanted to do something where he gave out free items on a Saturday at McDonald’s to promote reading,” Griffith said. “We held a book drive and the kids got free happy meals, ice cream coupons, and we went on Facebook live from the restaurant. School was just starting so the timing was perfect.” Children’s books by renowned national author Laura Numeroff were featured in the Happy Meals that month, creating a perfect connection. All donated books were distributed to the elementary schools in the county.

Griffith has hosted book drives at the local Boone County high schools during football games. She’s encouraged many partnerships, including working with the coaches and Girl Scouts.

“It’s fun times for groups to help! We’ve just been really blessed with folks who see our efforts and donate,” Griffith explained.

Combining her social media savvy and her love of reading comes naturally to Griffith. Add kids and cuddly animals, and Read To Your Pet Day is born.

“It’s one of the most popular days for us. The sheriff read to his pet that day. I told my coordinators, ‘This is gonna be fun! It’s gonna be OUR day!’” Griffith enthused. “We always do it in November, and it’s fun for everybody.”

Teachers and coordinators send out information about Read To Your Pet Day, and on the designated day, the magic happens.

“That evening, those parents start taking pictures of the kids reading to their pets,” Griffith said. She posts all of the photos on their Facebook page.

“I’m uploading like a maniac. It’s the craziest night for Read Aloud. We had a horse this year! We’ve had ferrets, cats, dogs…a wide array of pets,” Griffith said. “But the main thing is this: the parents are involved. It’s fun for the child because Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad are watching Billy and Sally read—it’s a family moment.”

Reading to horses, books at McDonald’s and football game book drives. All the norm for the out-of-the-ordinary Boone County Read Aloud organization.

Sara Busse is a long-time Charleston resident and community volunteer.

Image: Chris Connolly, a Boone County Chapter Board Member, poses with two McDonald’s Book Drive participants.

Lunchtime reading a big hit

By Lesley McCullough McCallister

As first year Read Aloud West Virginia volunteer Patrick Ashton, Assistant Principal at Mountain Ridge Intermediate School in Gerrardstown, Berkeley County, was attending his Read Aloud training, he was so excited thinking about reading to one classroom that he began to contemplate how to reach his entire school. Then it hit him, the best time to reach as many students as possible at once—lunchtime!

Typically, on “Theater Thursdays” students were allowed to watch a movie during their lunch period. Building on that idea, Mr. Ashton believed Read Aloud sessions would be a fun instructional activity that also could be tied to the curriculum. During the fall semester, Mr. Ashton began weekly Read Aloud sessions for approximately 200 students during each of three lunch periods for the third, fourth and fifth graders.

The students’ positive feedback was immediate. “I had kids asking me multiple times every day if I could read every day,” said Mr. Ashton. “Even the boys were requesting!”

This semester he read Wonder to the fourth and fifth graders and noted when it got close to Christmas he read Christmas stories and poems and put Wonder on hold.

Just before the holiday break, Mr. Ashton was promoted and will not return as Assistant Principal in the new year. Thankfully, Principal Autumne Frye has agreed to continue the lunchtime Read Aloud sessions for the students.

When asked why reading to students is so important, Mr. Ashton explained, “Enjoyment, imagination, relevance, comprehension, fluency, decoding, phonemic awareness, etc. I could go on and on. Kids need to  see that adults are excited about reading. I especially wanted to do this Read Aloud with our students to promote the idea that men do like to read and it’s not just for girls/women. And although I’m far from ‘cool,’ I am very active in their lives and I wanted the kids to see that reading is not just a forced act inside the classroom. Reading is exciting and enjoyable.”

While he won’t be at Mountain Ridge full time in the future, Mr. Ashton hopes his new position will allow him the flexibility to come back and continue reading to the students on occasion. He also hopes the idea of lunchtime Read Aloud sessions spreads to other schools throughout the state.

Lesley McCullough McCallister is a Read Aloud supporter, volunteer reader, newsletter contributor and a freelance  journalist.