November 17, 2017

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Texas Children’s ‘Read to Me!’ March Celebrates 24th Year

ReadToMe!_1_4-21-2004

On the march: Sally Meyers (left), Tom Green County Library children’s librarian, with former San Angelo mayor J.W. Lown  and friends in 2004.

Eighteen years ago, I wrote an article for School Library Journal on the importance of collaboration between schools and public libraries. I emphasized the need to promote reading by urging caretakers, parents, and grandparents to read to their children. For the prior five years, I had invited school children to our county courthouse during National Library Week to demonstrate with signs and their voices on behalf of reading. “READ TO ME!”  was their cry as they marched around the Tom Green County Courthouse at high noon, as cars and pedestrians passed by in downtown San Angelo, TX.

In April of 2015, we marched around the courthouse for the 24th year, this time with 1,400 kindergartners, first, and second graders and over 140 readers from middle schools and high schools. In 24 years, we have given voice to over 24,000 students. This year, several of the readers from the middle schools told me that they remembered attending the event when they were second graders.

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Children sitting on the courthouse steps get their message out.

The idea for this kind of demonstration came to me during my first year as children’s librarian for the Tom Green County Library System. We were brainstorming events that would make us visible to the community. One of my coworkers brought me an article about a reading picnic and suggested that we do that at the nearby Concho River, in the shade of the trees and company of geese. Since I am a child of the 60s and was an activist in the civil rights movement, that wasn’t exactly my style. “Great Idea,” I responded. “But we’ll have a march, not a picnic, and have it in the middle of town, across the street from the library, on the courthouse lawn.”

Our first march took place after school, and the YMCA bused its students to the courthouse. County commissioners and other city leaders read to the youngsters, and we had about 300 in attendance. Within a few years, we decided to have our event at noon and invite schoolchildren. We grew at a steady pace: 700, 1,000, 1,200. We featured armadillos, turtles, llamas, and police dogs to go along with our stories.

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Two marchers dressed as geese read aloud from ‘Honk! Honk! A Story of Migration’  by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom in 2015.

One year, we had school librarians reading to the children. For six years, J.W. Lown, a very popular mayor of San Angelo, led the march and reading cheer. Then we brought in award-winning children’s authors to be our guests. We have had Suzanne Bloom, Diane Bertrand, Kathi Appelt and Joy Fisher Hein, Gail Karwoski, and Stuart Stotts. Each brought enthusiasm and excitement to the event. Several authors mentioned that they had never led a march and had practiced by taking long walks. Each was excited and enthusiastic to be part of this event. This year, Stuart Stotts, author and songwriter, led the group in an original library song.

During their visits to San Angelo, the authors also provide programs in the public library and school libraries. Their presence has a great impact on the students, who always write thank you letters for their visits. “I really like the way your voice sounded when you read.” “I liked hearing about when you were my age.” The experience of having fun and connecting with an author whose books we love makes a lasting impression.

Our event has greatly improved since we added drummers to give us the marching beat. We have had percussion students, college students, and one year, we had our chief of police playing the drums. The last two years, we had the Christoval Mighty Cougar Drum Corp;  their eight members knocked our socks off! Between cadences, they yelled READ! All the students joined in.

In the last five years we have grown to 1,400 and have concentrated on having kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders as the marchers, and middle school and high school students as readers.

Read_to_me_2_2008The event lasts only one hour, from noon to 1 p.m. Buses start to arrive at about 11:50, unloading masses of children ready to march. Drummers begin playing their cadences as the first feet hit the ground, and teachers and classes fall into step. After all the buses have unloaded their precious cargo, the front and back of the courthouse are filled with lines of students holding signs and chanting READ TO ME!  At about 12:10 the students line up on the courthouse steps, overflowing onto the sidewalks and sitting closely together, waiting for the guest author to greet them.

I take the opportunity to welcome each school. The response is loud cheering from the students representing each campus. Next, I ask the group three questions: What do we do for FUN? What do we do to LEARN?  What do we say to everyone here today? Answers are READ! READ! and READ TO ME!

And the READING begins! The teachers take their classes to a reading site, marked by a smiley face stake and the older students are ready with a Big Book and story props. Classes move from site to site, and readers repeat their stories to each new group. Water and snacks are passed around as the children sit and listen to stories. Buses arrive at 1 p.m. and as the last child reaches the bus step, all is quiet and the stories fade into the sunlight.

So, in an hour’s time, in the hot Texas sun, what do we accomplish?

Middle school and high school readers had spent hours preparing their story. I had visited with each group to explain the skills of reading to children and as they chose their Big Books, they eagerly made plans for their presentations.

Classroom teachers had the opportunity to meet an author, having received a copy of his book or CD a month before the event to acquaint the children with his or her work.

Students were given a voice. They experienced the excitement and hype of reading normally only present at sports events.

School librarians felt they had an advocate in the public library to connect with the work they do day-by-day in the schools.

April 15, 2016 will mark our 25th march around the courthouse. John Erickson, author of the popular “Hank the Cowdog” series (Penguin), will be our guest. We will choose a Hank book to distribute throughout the schools and county and have everyone reading one of the Hank adventures. We are working with our local newspaper to publish one of Erickson’s books during the week of his visit, so that all families might read together. Our focus is on reading; reading together and sharing the fun.

Each year, as we tear down the site, someone says, “this was the best one ever!” As I look back through the years, I think about the impact of this event on our community, our library, our schools, and the children themselves. We have found something that works; an hour of cheering and marching for reading that serves as a reminder to all of us of the responsibility we have to our children.


Sally Meyers

Sally Meyers  has been  children’s librarian for Tom Green County Library System for 25 years and an active member of  the Texas Library Association, serving as chair of the Texas 2 x 2 Committee and chair of student participation for the Texas Bluebonnet Committee.  As a  member of the Texas Summer Reading Committee, she has written the Texas Summer Reading song for 18 years.Sally and her husband of 50 years have three children, eight grandchildren, and three great grandchildren.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Although I don’t know every children’s librarian in the country, the ones I do know are unrivaled in their dedication to and energy for connecting children and books. My friend, Sally Meyers, could be their queen! It has been an honor and privilege to work with her, to see her share her enthusiasm and to try to keep up with her!
    Authors and illustrators bring books to life. Librarians bring books to lives. S.B.