‘Tell me all the books’

I am typically a newsletter editor’s nightmare — waiting until the last minute to turn in my article. There is a reason for that. Invariably, close to deadline something will happen which crystalizes for me what I want to say. So it is with this issue.

Jennie Fitzkee, blogger extraordinaire and a frequent contributor to this newsletter (see her wonderful article about visiting E.B. White’s farm in this issue) recently sent two posts which dealt with book selection and the “best words from a child.”

The former touched on the most frequently asked question we receive from our volunteers, “What book is best?” To ask me (or any reader!) that question is almost like asking a parent to pick a favorite child — can’t be done! Nevertheless, we know it is an important question that needs to be addressed and this issue is chock full of suggestions from our conference attendees. (In Jennie’s own classroom the early favorite this year is Mo Willems’ Knuffle Bunny.)  You can also find links to the growing list of favorite titles submitted by Read Aloud volunteers over the years at readaloudwestvirginia.org/book-lists-and-reviews/.

The other post referenced a kindergarten student who, after observing the impressive display of books in Jennie’s room, said, “Jennie, tell me all the books.”

That made me think of our volunteers beginning another school year of “telling” (aka reading) so many books to children and introducing them to new words, new worlds and new authors. Those thoughts led in turn to an article I read this week about one of my very special heroes, Fred Rogers. As you probably know this is the 50th anniversary of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” and he has been the subject of many articles and honors, as well as a commemorative stamp and several documentaries.

That documentary seemed to make everyone leaving the theatre walk a little straighter and smile a little brighter. One of the most touching moments was when those remembering Mr. Rogers were asked to do something he had asked numerous audiences from Congressional committees to college graduates to do. He called it an “invisible gift” as he asked them to take one silent moment to “think about those who have helped you become who you are today.”

It made me think of those who are serving as that person for a child or children in our state now, guiding the next generation. When you read to a child as a volunteer, parent, grandparent, guardian or friend you are adding to who that child will become.

Those of you who support our organization and enable us to offer our programs are also fulfilling that role. You will read about some who are doing that (conferees; Dan Foster). Others may remain anonymous, but it does not diminish the incredibly important role they play. As we start the new school year, know that when you introduce a child to the pleasure of reading you are providing an incredibly important gift.

Also know we are always looking for additional volunteers to join us in our efforts.

— Mary Kay Bond, Executive Director, Read Aloud West Virginia

Great American Read: Favorite novel to be named Oct. 23

The Great American Read, a project of PBS for viewers to vote on their favorite novels of all time, will air its grand finale at 8 p.m. on Oct. 23.

This project creates opportunities for families and classrooms to discuss books and engage each other in what they are reading.

Is it even possible to choose America’s favorite novelists? Turns out you can, writes Adam Kirsch in the Wall Street Journal essay, “The Way We Read Now.” It’s storytelling that moves people, more than literary quality, the results show.

The power of story will be no surprise to Read Aloud volunteers or their classroom teachers.

PBS has just published The Book of Books, a companion volume to the series, full of short essays about the books by guests, sure to appeal to readers looking for the next great read.

You can keep up with The Great American Read at pbs.org/the-great-american-read/home/. Fair warning: You are likely to encounter Charlotte’s Web.

You can connect with The Great American Read on Facebook and through West Virginia public libraries.

It’s not too late to give to Read Aloud West Virginia!

It’s not too late to contribute to Read Aloud’s 2017-2018 Annual Fund! Read Aloud’s work is dependent on funds provided by our wonderful donors. These contributions enable our staff to support local chapters and grow our program.

While volunteer chapters are the face of Read Aloud in their respective communities, we know from experience that they count on an office and staff to support them. Read Aloud was founded in 1987 but from 2000-2007, we existed without staff and the number of chapters fell from 53 to four in that time period. Read Aloud was re-established with a central office in 2007-2008. Today, we serve more than 200 schools in 30 counties. That progress would not be possible without our generous donors.

Annual Fund letters were mailed in October and many of you have already contributed. We thank you! Please remember the 2017-2018 Annual Fund drive continues and is not closed at the end of the calendar year. If you have not done so, please consider making a donation to help us continue the work of getting books in the hands and on the minds of West Virginia’s children.

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.

OWL program encourages reading to babies and toddlers

A program launched by the Kanawha County Public Library is making it easier for families to read regularly to their preschoolers. The Open Worlds of Learning (OWL) program offers a simple way to check out a variety of age-appropriate books for children from birth to age three.

Parents and guardians age 18 and older may apply for an OWL card, receive a bag of ten books and keep them as long as they like. Once the books have been read, they can be exchanged for another bag of books. Since young children can be a bit rough on the books they love and explore, families are not charged for damaged books.

Currently 150 families are enrolled in the program and more than 3,000 books were checked out between the program’s inception in April and December. Terri Wooten, Kanawha County Public Library spokesperson reports, “The program has proven to be quite popular. Parents appreciate that they can check out a number of books at one time and can keep them as long as they like.”

This program aligns with one of the major goals of Read Aloud West Virginia: to encourage families to begin reading to children at birth. The benefits of reading to children are numerous. In addition to building a child’s vocabulary and attention span, a 2015 study cited by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found: “Children from more stimulating home reading environments had greater activity in brain areas supporting narrative comprehension and visual imagery, which are important for both language and reading.”  The AAP issued a policy statement in 2014 recommending that physicians encourage families to read to their children from birth.

Image: Pictured above are Aaron Ku, Elaine Lau, Dolce Ku, Sarah Talkington, and Peng-Peng Wang. Credit to Kenny Kemp, Charleston Gazette-Mail.


Local banks put books into kids’ hands

A summer program by Jackson County—reprinted with permission from Jackson Newspapers

In the financial world, it’s common for banks to be in stiff competition with each other, offering better rates and incentives to gain new customers.

In Jackson County, three banks are joining together as a team on a project that will make a positive impact on the lives of children, ages 10 and under.

Starting June 19, United Bank, City National Bank and BB&T offered the second annual “Banking on Books” campaign.

In cooperation with Jackson County Read Aloud, each bank purchased 250 books to give to drive-through customers who have children under the age of 10 in the car with them. One book was given to each vehicle. The books were available at United Bank in Ripley, City National Bank in Ripley, and BB&T in Ripley and Ravenswood.

Both Kerry Casto, Market President for United Bank and Nick Miller, BB&T Vice-President, were enthusiastic about this opportunity to encourage and support reading.

“I serve on the Jackson County Read Aloud Board,” Casto said. “There’s no greater reward than to see a child excited about getting a book. With “Banking on Books,” our window tellers can see the kids’ faces light up when they’re handed a book. It’s a lot better than candy.”

Miller agrees with the importance of this campaign. “Our banks definitely support reading and life-long learning,” he said. “We were concerned last year that doing this might be a burden to our tellers. But it was just the opposite. They loved it.”

Jackson County Read Aloud worked closely with the book selection. There was a variety of books, geared mainly to elementary level, including board books and chapter books.

According to Linda Dickirson, Jackson Read Aloud board member, the inspiration for the book give away came from the Read Aloud West Virginia Conference.

“We learned about Lewisburg’s Literacy Day and their bank giveaway,” she said. “When we brought the idea back with us, our board and these three banks enthusiastically embraced it. And it’s really taken off. We hope it expands to the other banks in the area as well. There’s no doubt they all support reading and education.”