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Previously published by The News-Press

"There's magic in reading aloud."

"I never dreamed I'd spend nights hiding under the covers reading well past my bedtime."

"Think of yourself in a foreign land where all the words are gibberish. You are lost."

Reading opens up galaxies

Published in The News-Press on 3/30/14


Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.

Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.

Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy, wuz he?

"No he wasn't!"


That was the somber response from our daughter Regan at age 2 or so, making us crack up.


What a joy it was to read to her, and watch her live the tales, her eyes sparkling with wonder, then concentration as she hungrily unraveled the mysteries of letters and words and sentences and books and entire galaxies.


We were doting parents, having grown up differently: Randy lost among the pack of 10 kids on a Missouri farm; me a lonely latchkey kid who grew up with a TV as babysitter.


Randy became a househusband when Regan was 3 and did the bulk of raring while I took on more work responsibilities as we transplanted from D.C. to Chicago, Idaho, then Seattle.I'd call home from a business trip and say, what are you reading?


Regan’s repertoire quickly evolved from Dr. Seuss to Pooh to Anne of Green Gables to the first Harry Potter (wasn't that a gem?) to The Hobbit--which she requested again and again. Though she was reading well by this time, she still liked to nestle in our arms and listen.


There's magic in reading aloud, especially to a young audience. I got a brief dose of pixie dust recently when I was invited to Rayma Page Elementary for Read Across America week, in honor of Theodor (Seuss) Geisel’s March 2 birthday—he would have been 110 this year.


Volunteer parent Kelly Powell went big with 37 guests from all fields and ages over a couple of sessions, including a dentist, hockey player, police officer and a firefighter.


In the media room (not “library”), I scanned through possibilities for the two fifth grade classes I had been assigned and Appelemando's Dreams by Patricia Polacco caught my eye. There were some tricky names but I thought I could pull it off. (And I thought how interesting this author made up some tough names--to challenge the reader?)


I walked in and was met with eager gleams--I was a winner already, being a diversion from math.


I started with a little about myself: English as a second language, an only child who found company and escape in books. I said, having failed spelling test after spelling test as a second grade immigrant, I never dreamed I'd spend nights hiding under the covers reading well past my bedtime or that I'd be working with words for a living, which just proves all things are possible.


And then I launched into stage work—I really wanted to capture not just their attention but their imagination in 10 minutes. So I may have been a tad theatrical in the telling of young Appelemando, a dreamer whose dreams you could see. Well, he gets into trouble and the town elders scornfully accuse him of lying--and that prevents him from dreaming.


“Have you ever felt that way,” I asked the students, “when someone didn't believe in you?” Hands stretch in the air to seek permission to speak while heads nod. “That doesn't feel good does it? And we don't want to make others feel like that, do we?”


Appelemando and his friends get lost in deep woods. They're despairing and their only hope is for Appelemando to dream so the townsfolk could see the images and find them. At first Appelemando can't, still undermined by disbelief. Then he looks into the trusting faces of his friends, and is able to dream again. They are found, the elders apologize and all is well. The town becomes thriving and colorful and, by the well sits an old man who loves to dream.


“Who is that?” Hands shoot up and a few out of turn callouts: Appelemando!


They were listening! And you could tell some who were truly captivated (vs the precocious youngster who would nod knowingly whenever I looked his way), who saw Appelemando and his dreams, who perhaps will pick up that book, or another, with more enthusiasm.


Reading: it all starts there. Think of yourself in a foreign land where all the words are gibberish. You are lost.


And too many of our youngsters are lost. Only 57% of 3rd graders in Florida are reading at minimum levels, according to the latest tests. In our area, Charlotte leads at 64%, followed by Lee, 61%; Glades, 56%; Collier, 54%; and Hendry, 42%.  The numbers are comparable at every grade: meaning 3 to 5 of every 10 kids can't read at grade level.


Our schools throughout the region are working hard on this, both the teaching of reading and the encouragement to foster the love of reading.


Without words we have no knowledge. Find a way to read to a youngster and help them read more, read better.


Galaxies await.

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