Never underestimate children. The same goes for those who know what it takes to make a difference with children. This week both statements came into clear focus when I drove from Massachusetts to West Virginia with a car full of over 500 books. This journey was the final leg of Groton Community School’s dedicated contribution to Read Aloud West Virginia. As we celebrated NAEYC’s “Week of the Young Child”, our school’s focus was collecting books for children in West Virginia, and delivering them to an organization that does far more than just give out books; they promote reading books to children in one of our country’s most under performing states for childhood literacy. Big difference!
I witnessed firsthand that difference, which also cemented my statement, ‘never understatement children’. I went to the Martin Luther King, Jr. school in South Charleston to read aloud to the Pre-K class. I planned to read an engaging book, The Story of Little Babaji, but the Director of Read Aloud wasn’t sure that the children could ‘stay with the book’, as it is a bit long. She suggested a Mo Willems book that was fairly simple, and after some discussion we compromised on a Mo Willems book that was not as simple, Knuffle Bunny. If the children could stick with and enjoy that book, I could then try and read mine. Yes, they loved Knuffle Bunny, especially Trixie’s sounds, and they adored The Story of Little Babaji, helping to say and repeat the key sentences in the book. After reading, they asked for more. Actually, they begged for more. Children can absorb far more of what they hear than what they see. Therefore, they can listen to a story that is beyond their years and comprehend more than we realize. That’s why reading aloud works. Chapter books are read everyday in my classroom. I rest my case.
When I arrived at Read Aloud West Virginia, the first thing I heard as I opened the car door to greet and meet Director Mary Kay Bond and her staff, was the sound of a train, and my childhood swept over me like a warm blanket. Funny how a sound or a smell can instantly bring memories to the surface. We shook hands, chatted, and oogled over the nineteen beautiful school bags filled with 500 really good books with labels. I felt like I was in Cynthia Rylant’s book, The Relatives Came. The looking and touching carried on for quite a while until the newspaper arrived to take pictures and interview me. We talked about my school and making this big donation our annual Week of the Young Child giving, and how the children responded and participated. We talked about how I found Read Aloud West Virginia, through the obituary of my childhood friend. We also talked about reading to children and why it’s important. To my surprise, the Charleston Gazette published the article the next day, front page news (www.wvgazette.com).
The afternoon was twofold; reading at the local school and addressing the Board of Directors at their monthly meeting. This group of at least a dozen professionals were deeply appreciative. When the cart full of the bags of books was rolled into the meeting, it was a pleasure to just sit back and watch their faces light up. Like eager children, the members wanted to touch and feel, as if their hands could always keep that moment alive. They so enjoyed how the children at my school counted all the books by tens and tied each bundle. Each person wanted to tell me “thank you”, and wanted to make sure I passed their thanks along to Groton Community School. “With pleasure”, I told them all.
Life is full of twists and turns. Who knew that the death of a friend (and unbeknownst to me shared my passion), and her wish to be remembered through Read Aloud West Virginia, would become the catalyst for such an important giving event? The children and schools who will be the recipient of the books are really the ones who benefit. Given the tools of books, they won’t be underestimated. Neither will the organization that makes it all happen.