A lucky kindergarten class in midtown Manhattan’s PS/IS 111 received a real treat on March 1 in honor of Saturday’s Read Across America Day. Wearing their handmade, Cat in the Hat-inspired paper hats and sitting patiently in their school library, they were greeted by a stellar storytime volunteer with a recognizable voice. “Hola, I’m Dora,” Fátima Ptacek began, as the stunned, pint-sized audience members’ hands flew to their mouths.
A member of the Screen Actors Guild Foundation children’s literacy program BookPALS, the 12-year-old actress—fresh off her leading role in the Academy Award-winning short Curfew—shared Susan Middleton Elya’s No More Por Favor (Putnam, 2010) and the Dr. Seuss classic Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? with the rambunctious crowd. Ptacek encouraged kids to read as much as they could because “reading helps you take all kinds of journeys. When you read you become part of the story.” She also praised the children present (who all spoke at least one other language at home) for their knowledge and creativity.
The reading was co-hosted by the Brooke Jackman Foundation (BJF), an organization headed by Erin Jackman, a former teacher at the school, who lost her sister on 9/11; BJF aims to be a living legacy to the 23-year-old who had dreams of becoming a social worker and had a passion for literacy and helping children. The PS/IS 111’s school library is named after Brooke Jackman and has been stocked by the organization, in addition to its after-school library.
PS/IS 111’s principal Irma Medina said she appreciates her school’s active relationship with both the BJF and BookPALS, and especially Ptacek’s participation. “Kids should see other kids reading, and that it’s active part of our daily lives. In English, Spanish, any language, it enriches us,” she told School Library Journal. She also praised her school’s librarian, Rose Guerrero, who is new to the school this year but has already immersed herself in the school’s day-to-day routine, she said.
Ptacek, whose favorite books include the “Sisters Grimm” (Abrams) and “Harry Potter” (Scholastic) series, and Jon Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, credits her librarians, teachers, and parents for instilling in her the love for reading. She encourages librarians to promote reading, and to use any technique or method possible to give the power of literacy to the next generation, because “books are beautiful.”
BFJ works with many other libraries, schools, homeless shelters, and Family Justice Centers, and has distributed 20,000 Brooke Packs (backpacks filled with books and school supplies) to children and families in need in the New York tri-state area. BJF most recently partnered with BookPALS in December at an event for Sandy victims in East Rockaway, NY.
“We have the books, and they bring them to life,” said Erin Jackman, executive director of the BJF.