“Yea!  It’s the story lady!” 

Summer Book Buddies are bringing just-for-fun reading to children all over Las Cruces. When Jan Reed showed up with books at Jornada Elementary K-3+ for the first time, she was repeatedly asked, “Can I really keep it?’ The children were astounded to get another book the following week, “Do we get to keep this one too?” Reed is a volunteer promoting literacy and battling Summer Slide, the loss of reading skills that occur when children don’t read for pleasure during the summer.

Reed and other Book Buddies are providing a half hour story time for children ages 5 through 8 when they deliver books to school sites. Linda Buttram reports from Conlee, “The kids really enjoy the read-aloud time.  They have been very excited and receptive. “Yea!  It’s the story lady!”  The teachers are very grateful for the program and its impact. The books have been a big hit with all of the children. They were thrilled to find out that the books were for keeping.  Each time they choose a book I have to reassure the kids that they get to keep it and take it home.”

“On my third visit, I talked to the classes about having books at home, utilizing the library, and sharing books with friends. I asked the question ‘Who has some books at home?’ The answer that touched me was the little boy who asked in a small voice “Are you going to give us another book today?”  When I assured him that I was, he beamed and said “So now I will have 3 books!” These books really do make a difference to the children of Las Cruces.  They are important and treasured.  Many thanks to the generous folks who made this program possible.”

There are so many generous folks to thank that I dedicate this column to all of them although I only have room to acknowledge a few. 

I found out in March that Las Cruces Public Schools had written Children’s Reading Alliance into plans for their K3+ summer program. I wondered how we would manage to raise enough money to provide 9,000 books in just a few months.

When I started writing the Reading Solution in January 2013 I began the very first column with the assertion that we are a community of doers; that we take good ideas and run with them; and that our community action is wholeheartedly directed toward our children and their success in school. I believed it then. I have even better reason to believe it now.

Within four months, 75 individuals and businesses opened their hearts and wallets to cover the cost of new books and dozens of volunteers willingly put sweat equity into getting the job done.

Special thanks go to Claire Frohs and everyone at the Las Cruces Bulletin, Ammu and Rama Devasthali, Claud Gobble and Wells Fargo Advisors, El Paso Electric, and LCPS Foundation for generosity and the CRA Fund Development committee Clay Doyle, Michael Allen, Maria Flores, Karena Oberman, Sue McDaniel, and Maria Zuniga for leadership.

Community Action Agency provided space for a whole lot of books. CAA staffers Pat Dimmie, Gloria Otero, Janet Estrada, Norma May, Christine Lester, Tonya Tout processed thousands of books and Adela Trujillo’s classroom became our staging area.

Rhonda Karol and Las Cruces Public Schools LCPS K3+ Coordinator Cari Aguilera, along with all of the principals, secretaries and custodians cover logistics.

Summer Book Buddies Team Leaders Rhonda Karol, Terry Miller and Maria Zuniga keep the whole thing running while Jim Billings and Marcus Crawford haul books back and forth to eighteen different schools four times each.

The real stars of this show are an amazing corps of literacy volunteers who provide Storytime each week. Thank you, Jan Reed, Susan McDaniel, Marcus Crawford, Alison Bills, Linda Buttram, Loni Todoroki, Ruth Rubin, Maribel Lucero, Claudia Billings, Bonnie Schranz, Brenda Van Dyke, Nikka Ziemer and Nancy Anderson.

Here are a few of their observations:

Susan McDaniel reports from Mac Arthur, “One girl in 2nd grade told me she did not share or read her book to anyone. She keeps it in her book bag for privacy. Having her own book was a big deal!!”

Bonnie Schranz who reads at Sonoma says “I was steering children in a bilingual class to either English language or Spanish language books – their choice.  A very small girl’s face clouded up when she confessed to me (in perfect English) that she didn’t speak English or Spanish.  She didn’t know the difference or even that there was one.  I loved that.”

Loni Todoroki shared two vignettes, “ Before I came, a boy told his teacher that he could not do the ten minute a night reading homework because there were no books at his house. Now he can!” Later, “A little girl asked in English if it was okay to choose a Spanish book so that her grandma could read it to her.”

Cheryl Howard, “It’s been so much fun, I love it! Yesterday, a teacher told me her children get very excited about their books and want to read them out-loud to the classroom. That made me very happy because when I was a child, I was a poor reader and scared to death the teacher would call on me to read out-loud to the class. I’ve heard technology had replaced the younger generation’s love of books, but it’s not true.  They were just as excited about their books as any video game. They like to gather on the floor around me after they pick their book and read it out loud.  It has been encouraging for me to see firsthand that children are are STILL excited about books!   I’ve received so many genuine hugs, and one little girl even told another I was her grandma!  As they leave the room in a line, they are all smiling, waving with their book in hand, and saying “Thank You.”

Marcus Crawford’s best attempt at an Australian accent while reading “Diary of a Wombat” got a little boy wondering how Marcus knew what a wombat would sound like. “I was caught a bit off guard, so I told him that I had met a wombat once at the airport.”

Join the fun. Wrangle up a child or two or even an adult near you and entertain them with your own performance art. There are only a few tricks to make the experience a blast for all of you.

  1. Do the voices. Go ahead and be silly. The illustrations will give you clues for making up a character’s voice. According to Jim Dale, a professional audio book reader, “Neuro-imagining research suggests that dialog in a story activates a part of the brain known as the right temporo-parietal junction, a key region for what’s called theory of mind, or the ability to attribute mental and emotional states of others.”
  1. Be choosy. Pick age appropriate stories that are complex enough to withstand repeated readings. You don’t have to limit yourself to your child’s current vocabulary. Encourage your listener to figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words.
  1. Allow time for interruptions. Questions and conversations that go off on tangents can be valuable opportunities to share information and find out what is on your little one’s mind. According to Malia Wollan of the New York Times, “Researchers call these story time detours “non-immediate talk” which benefit children’s language development.”
  1. Relax! When I talk to children about how it feels to read to someone or be read to they tell me it makes them feel calm, happy, relaxed, and cozy. And, you know what, it makes me feel that way too.

Children’s Reading Alliance is a grassroots citizen-led non-profit organization determined to put books in the hands of children, support families to build strong reading values at home, and to promote literacy across all of Dona Ana County. You can find out more about us at our website.  http://www.childrensreadingalliance.org