For as long as I can remember, the school where I teach has celebrated February as I Love to Read Month, and this year was no exception. I don’t think I have to sell the readers of this blog very hard on how important it is to get young kids interested in reading, so I’d imagine you’d all be on board with this.
Our calendar fills up with events and activities taking place throughout the month, all somehow related to reading. Each week features some kind of a dress-up day. Sometimes the connections to reading seem like a bit of a stretch, but the kids still love them. Read a Shirt Day, Read a Button Day, Read a Hat Day have all come up in the rotation over the years, and are good inclusive ways to get students participating. We’ve even had a few “Dress Like a Book Character” Days before, which often end up with debates about whether or not SpongeBob can be counted as a book character on the same level as Pippi Longstocking just because he has his own joke book (and someone was super excited about repurposing their Halloween costume in the name of school spirit). This year the events included “Slip Into a Good Book Day,” when the kids, and adults, all had the chance to wear and show off their favorite slippers. “Sports Team Day” made the calendar because...well, I guess athletes read? “Sweat it Out With a Good Book Day” is also known as “Mr. Mulroy’s Favorite Day of the Year” because I can wear sweatpants to school and nobody will even think twice about it. A few times during the month we’ll take a building-wide pause for a “Drop Everything and Read” break, and yes, that includes the staff. I promise you there are few on-the-job moments that get much better than a reading break that is not only sanctioned, but required. If we ever see Drop Everything and Read fall on a Sweatpants Day some year, my life will pretty much be complete.
This year the students can fill out paper Book Circles when they finish reading a new book (or complete a chapter, depending on their grade and reading level). Each circle puts them in a weekly drawing for a Barnes & Noble gift card, along with the potential thrill of hearing their name announced over the intercom as one of the winners. As the month progresses, the completed circles are displayed in the school’s main hallway in an overlapping chain that looks like a comically long rainbow-colored worm crawling along the walls and the ceiling. The whispers and giggles that my students are always trying to sneak under the radar all but die out when we down the hallway now as each each of them scans the circles to find the ones they turned in. In another hallway display, a collection of photos shows staff members posing with some of their favorite books from elementary school, holding open the book and hiding most of their face with the cover. If you ever found yourself in our hallway, you’d see my eyes peeking up from behind a copy of my definitive childhood book, A Wrinkle in Time.
The headlining event of the month is I Love to Read Night, which could best be described as a combination of a family information night and a reading carnival. There’s a book fair, and catered food brought in from our local Buffalo Wild Wings (yes, I had some). Bingo games, technology explorations, story time, family word games, crafts, and a wide assortment of standard carnival games keep everyone busy. All of the activities are run by staff members, school parents, community volunteers, and even National Honor Society members from the nearby high school. I assume the night was a big success this year, but since I spent my two-hour shift chasing down taped-up rolls of toilet paper at the T.P. Toss, I didn’t get out to see much else.
Last Friday every student in the school had a chance to play Bango For Books, which is very much like a perpendicular version of a similar game, but in this one everyone eventually wins and the prize is a brand new book of their choice. Unfortunately one of my students was sick that day and didn’t get to play, but the announcement was made at the start of the game that all teachers should select books for any absent students to make sure each child got one. As the announcement was made, I looked at one of my girls sitting at a nearby table. She read my expression and anticipated the question I was about to ask, saying: “She likes books about pets.” First of all, this was such a perfect third grade kind of thing to say I had no choice but to smile. And I loved that she knew this about her friend. I’d like to think that knowing what kinds of books you like should be near the top of any friendship checklist.
We still have one more week before I Love to Read Month closes, as well as a few more special days and fun events. From there we continue on, and hopefully the students are ready to move through the rest of the year with a renewed appreciation or a new discovery of the joys of reading.