John Clark talking about a power we all have, but might not think is one, reading aloud. Kate and I were extremely lucky to have parents who read to us on a regular basis from infancy until we were able to read on our own. We grew up in Union which had, and still has, the Vose Library. In those days, it was open on Friday afternoons and both of us lived for that time. Back in the late 1950s, the selection wasn’t anywhere as varied as it is today and by junior high, we’d gone through most everything age appropriate. Kate volunteered and was often second to the librarian when a new adult mystery or mainstream title arrived. I dove into science fiction with a vengeance. I remember the following quotation on many book plates at the library: “A million candles have burned themselves out. Still I read on. (Montresor).” It has stuck with me to this day.
When Beth and I had our daughters, we started reading to them regularly and each of us discovered favorite books as we read and watched their own love of reading develop. A monster is coming! A monster is coming!, One Monster After Another, and The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate The Wash were my top favorites to read. I also learned that I couldn’t read Fox In Socks, I had to sing it.
Sara and Lisa attended Chelsea School through eighth grade. As parents, Beth and I got involved in the school. One project the PTA came up with was for men to read and record on cassette high interest juvenile fiction so boys struggling with reading could listed as they read. Looking back, we probably were violating copyright. However, the kids we wanted to reach loved listening as they read along. I recorded books by Gary Paulsen and Will Hobbs. Another PTA project I participated in was reading to third graders. Again, the goal was to get men into classrooms to read because so many kids came from single family homes, they didn’t think men ever read. It was fascinating watching the group dynamics change over the several week period when I read on Thursdays. On week one, the kids who were used to having someone read to them clustered around my feet. As the kids spread further from me, you could see those who were slightly wary scattered ten feet or so back. The kids whose trust level was close to zero, hugged the wall. Each week, as I returned as promised. The wall huggers crept closer and by the final week, every kid was listening and part of a big semi-circle.
Fast forward to my years as the head librarian in Boothbay Harbor. At the beginning of one school year, I was invited to introduce myself to a fifth grade class by reading the first few chapters of a book. In this instance, I chose The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I learned later that several of the kids in the class picked up where I left off and finished the story. Mary Pinkham, my very talented children’s librarian at Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library, had regular story hours, but expanded them to a couple interesting venues. She went out to various daycare centers in the area and read to kids there. These became extremely popular. Even more popular (it was the most watched program we learned), were her story reads she did for the local cable TV channel. More older adults were enjoying the reads than kids.
In the latter years of our tenure in Hartland, Beth and I became involved as volunteers at the Saint Albans Elementary School, reading both to individual students and to classes. We generally let kids select from their assigned books and as the youngsters read, I was often able to pull out personal experiences that related to the story, or suggest more books in the same genre. We also got involved in the Hartland-St. Albans Lions Club Reading Carnival which is coming up on the second Saturday in April. Close to 200 kids and parents will get to explore different careers, participate in readers theater, face paint, meet game wardens and fire fighters, learn about recycling and gardening, and, best of all, go home with new books.
Come May, we’ll have Community Reads Day at the Somerset School with people coming in to read to the lower grades on each Friday during the month. Even though we have moved away from Hartland, these two events coming up are important enough so we remain part of them.
My hope in sharing these experiences with MCW readers is to get you to think about the power of your voice and encourage you to find a school or community center where youngsters are eager to hear you. Let me know how that happens.