‘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

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.

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.


Beckley Art Center collaborates with Raleigh County Read Aloud

By Lesley McCullough McCallister

Last October, artists from the Beckley Art Center teamed up with two Raleigh County Read Aloud volunteers, Ann Cline and Ruth Baker, to bring original works of art coupled with original stories to area elementary students.

Peggy Dubnam and other local artists from the Beckley Art Center were staging an exhibit and auction of original dolls and their stories. Dubnam contacted Cline and Baker about the possibility of taking the dolls and stories to their Read Aloud classrooms. Cline and Baker were more than willing to join forces.

Cline and Dubnam visited a first-grade class at Crab Orchard Elementary with a handcrafted doll and read Debnam’s original story about the doll’s adventures to the students.

“The most meaningful part for me was the students’ chance to view a piece of art right in their classroom that had been created locally in a collaboration of visual artists and storytellers,” said Cline.

The children and teachers were delighted to see and hear the work of artists and storytellers firsthand. The impact was evident as Cline noted that after they visited the classrooms, one student produced a story at home and later brought it to school for Cline to read during one of her next Read Aloud visits.

Cline also reads to fifth graders at Mabscott Elementary and said that after the art collaboration in those classrooms, several students and their families visited the Beckley Art Center for the first time.

Tamarack heard about this amazing community partnership and asked Debnam if the dolls exhibit could travel there for a special event on an October Sunday afternoon. The event included Read Aloud volunteers Cline and Baker reading the dolls’ stories to children in attendance.

“Partnering with other local organizations and initiatives allows Read Aloud to magnify our impact and engage more fully in the local community,” said Read Aloud West Virginia Executive Director Mary Kay Bond. “Our Raleigh County chapter has done an excellent job of building connections that serve our mission and the community well.”

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

Turn summer slide into a springboard for family reading and bonding; key element? YOU!

By Nikki Moses

Summer slide, summer setback, dumber in the summer. Ask any educator, and you will find that a loss of reading skills among students can be as much a part of summer as baseball and ice cream cones; but, it doesn’t have to be!

Many children lose more than two months of reading achievement over the summer, according to the Campaign for Grade Level Reading. Some children do not.

Summer can be a time for reading adventures, trying new genres, family read-a-thons, camp outs with flashlights for reading, reading under the old apple tree, trips to the library followed by stops for ice cream…and reading skills can be maintained or increased.

What (or who) is the catalyst? YOU!

Take advantage of the summer break. Skills and drills, necessary to the educational process, can be left at school. Have fun. Be creative. Bond. Pick up a book that you have been meaning to read!

Weimer Elementary scores a “hat trick” with morning muffins, donuts

By Melody Simpson

Becky Ryder, Read Aloud school coordinator and Title I reading teacher at Weimer Elementary School in Saint Albans, had three problems to solve: how to get her students more interested in reading, how to get books into their hands and homes, and how to get parents involved, both at the school and in their children’s success? Fortunately, she and the school came up with an innovative approach to address all three.

In January 2016, Weimer hosted a “Muffins with Moms” event one morning between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m., to catch moms (as well as grandmothers and other caregivers) as they were dropping off children at school. (Notices were sent home to alert them in advance.) On another morning in February, the school hosted “Donuts with Dads.” Both events were wildly successful, with 40 to 50 adults attending each one (counting the children, over 100 attended each event). The parents were welcomed and given snacks and drinks, and their children were permitted to choose a free book from a varied selection provided by Read Aloud. Parents then read the books to (or with) their children before the regular school day began.

“The first event was held in the school’s library, but we had so many attending it spilled over into my classroom,” Ryder commented. They moved the “Dads” event into the cafeteria to avoid this “wonderful” overcrowding problem. Ryder believes the timing of the events was key to their success. “When we’ve had family nights or PTO events in the evening, attendance has tended to be very low,” Ryder said. They were thrilled to have so many of the parents attending each event.

Ryder is passionate about making all Weimer students lifelong readers, but she recognizes that many of them face significant hurdles, not the least of which is simply the absence of books to read at home. She hopes to have some sort of book event once a month next year, if finances permit, during which students will be able to choose a book to take home. In addition, since many Weimer students do not live in traditional or stable housing, she plans to provide book bags to hold the students’ personal libraries. A Little Free Library was installed on the school grounds in May and Ryder also intends to request visits from the Kanawha County Public Library’s Bookmobile.

Ryder was extremely grateful to Read Aloud for the books: she commented the group even was able to provide her with books that were likely to appeal to men for the “Dads” event.  She hopes she can replicate the success of “Muffins with Moms” and “Donuts with Dads” next school year.

Melody Simpson is an attorney at Bowles Rice LLP, a volunteer reader and member of the Read Aloud board and newsletter committee.