Read In Week 2013, In which I travel to school with a sloth and a stupendously stuffed sack of stories
Another Read In Week has come and gone. For those of you who may not know, Read In Week is a week-long event that highlights the importance of reading in the development of literacy skills. One of the staples of Read In Week is guest readers in schools. Once again, I volunteered to read at my daughter Abigail’s elementary school, and like last year, I was invited to read to more than one class.
Leading up to Read In Week, I had a plan to post the list of books I was going to read. However, judging from past experience and realising how my brain operates, I knew that the booklist I would have posted would not be the same as the one I would ultimately use. When I’m preparing for a storytime, I have a general idea of which books I want to use, but I end up pulling several other just in case I need to make any last-minute adjustments. These adjustments may be due to the make up of the group, having to react to the dynamics of the group part way through, or just the general vibe I get when I sit down in front of the children. With that being said, the theme of Read In Week 2013 was “You Will Go Far” and there were a couple of books which I felt compelled to include. Firstly, Oh! The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. This is a classic book about finding yourself and your place in the world; about facing up to fears and disappointments and rising above them; about realising your potential. Next, The Flight of the Dodo by Peter Brown. This is a story about three flightless birds who are tired of not having a bird’s-eye view of the world and build a flying machine. It also shows that dreams must be tempered with discipline if they are to be realised. Aside from these two, I had a special request from my daughter; two actually. The first was for The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, the second was for 13 Words by Lemony Snicket. When my daughter picked The Gruffalo I had mixed feelings. It is a certainly a book that she has grown up with, though it’s been a while since we read it. It also serves as a touchstone for my ability to read stories to children. One evening after my mother had been watching the kids she told me that she had read The Gruffalo to my daughter. My mother had been told in no uncertain terms by my daughter that she hadn’t read it right because she didn’t use the voices Daddy does. While this was all very sweet and gratifying, I have to admit that I was kind of done with The Gruffalo. I know that seems like a flaky and selfish reason not to read the book, but there it is; I was not in the mood to read The Gruffalo. On the other hand, 13 Words was a book I was looking forward to reading. 13 Words is a great book for one-on-one reading. It has thirteen feature words that are then inserted into the overall narrative. It’s fun to have the child read out the feature words while you provide the context. The interesting thing about the feature words is that some are simple, like bird and dog, while others are more complex, like convertible and haberdashery. As I said, this is a great book for one-on-one reading, but maybe not the best for group readings. However, last year I read this book to my daughter’s grade one class specifically because it was one of the first books that she was able to read on her own; not just the feature words, but the entire book; and so I thought it would be nice for her to read the book with me in front of her class. While my daughter read the feature words (including convertible, haberdashery, and mezzo-soprano) I read the rest of the story. It was such a good experience last year that I wanted to do it again, and my daughter, once again, was excited to join me.
So, that takes care of three books. However, I would be reading in six different classes, and so I started to put books on hold from the Edmonton Public Library catalogue and pulled from the shelves of the Shelley Milner Children’s Library where I work. Finally I had what I felt would be a good pool to pick from and with out branch sloth puppet, Sanderson, by my side, I went out to Lorelei Elementary. As it turns out, I only needed nine books, but of course I didn’t know that until I got there.
Grade One – The Dark, My Rhinoceros, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Grade Two - The Dark, Flight of the Dodo, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Opportunities Class (Division 1) – Bark, George, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
Kindergarten (morning class) – Are You a Horse?, Bark, George, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
At this point, it was lunch time. Fortunate for me, it happened to be Soup Day at Lorelei and the staff invited me to join them. While I enjoyed a magnificent lunch of homemade soups with apple crumble for dessert, the teachers and I had a discussion about storybooks. I told them that when it comes to picking which books to read, I only choose the ones I enjoy reading. The book may be identified as a “classic” or it may be a story that is read over and over to children around the world; regardless, if I don’t enjoy reading it, then I will have a difficult time imparting any joy or interest to the children. I also shared my position that not all storybooks are suited for reading in groups. Some are beautiful stories, but are filled with subtleties, either in the illustrations or in the story itself, that will be lost within a group setting. Several of the teachers agreed that there are many great storybooks out there that appeal to both adults and children; we also agreed that those were the ones we liked the most.
Well, lunch was over and it was time to get back to the classes:
Grade One/Two – The Dark, 13 Words, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Kindergarten (Afternoon class) - Are You a Horse?, Bark, George, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
In the end, I packed up my ridiculous sack of stories, grabbed one last cookie from the staff room, and signed out at the office. There were several highlights that day, but there were three in particular that I want to mention. First, reading to the Opportunities class. This is a class of children with special learning needs, but when I sat down in front of them, I can tell you that it was not any kind of deficiency that I saw. Rather, it was in a class filled with gratitude, excitement, and participation. When I pulled out Pete the Cat from the sack, the whole room erupted. Unbeknownst to me, they had been studying Pete the Cat; they were even creating their own Pete the Cat book. They read and sang along with me as they knew the story by heart, and it was great fun! Second, having lunch with the staff of Lorelei School. I was thankful for the invitation to lunch, and I was grateful for the opportunity to have pleasant, candid conversation with teachers and staff, including a gentle ribbing from the wonderful Kindergarten teacher who’s always trying to get me into teaching (I have a degree in Elementary Education). Lastly, but not at all least, was the opportunity to not only read in front of Abigail’s class, but to have her join me in front of the class to share 13 Words. I was filled with pride in my daughter, and even now as I type this my eyes are welling up. It was wonderful to be able to do this for her, and with her.
Maybe next year I’ll have my act together and post a booklist before my visit…
… probably not.