Family Reading Night: The Joy of Reading

June 9, 2014

Dawn Kitchell  | Missouri press association state NIE Director

Each year on the first Friday in March, hundreds of people squeeze into the middle school in Washington, MO, to celebrate the simple pleasure of hearing a book read.

In an era when words on the page are being hard hit by technology, this community of 13,000 on the Missouri River west of St. Louis is still passing the joy of reading onto the next generation.

Family Reading Night is a community-wide event that involves more than 100 volunteers and 600-700 children, parents and grandparents.

The Washington Missourian initiated the project in 2001. The goal was to bring together newsmakers one night a year to share favorite stories with children who were reading about them in the newspaper.

These days, high school students are involved in the event as well, reading to children perched where they themselves sat a decade ago, proving that the reading experience truly does come full circle.

The Missourian organizes Family Reading Night in partnership with the Washington School District. A committee of educators, librarians and newspaper staff plan and execute the event, which includes dozens of volunteers, parent/teacher organizations hosting tables of crafts tied to books, a visit by an author or illustrator, readers, theater skits by local police and fire departments, and free books, a lot of free books.

The 2014 Family Reading Night featured St. Louis author Carolyn Mueller, sharing her inspiration behind “Lily’s Story,” the tale of a search and rescue dog from Joplin, MO, who helped in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado. Lily, a 6-year-old Weimaraner and her owner, Tara Prosser, also were at the event to share their experience first-hand.

“Family Reading Night at Washington Middle School was amazing,” Prosser said. “Seven hundred people attended and I think all them got to pet Lily!”

“Lily’s Story” was a serialized children’s feature published in The Missourian and nearly 200 other newspapers across the country beginning in January. Mueller’s children’s book, “Lily: A True Story of Courage & the Joplin Tornado,” was released just in time for Family Reading Night.

“I was just amazed at the welcome we had and the love that was shown for Lily,” Prosser said. “We had a fantastic time, and we could not have imagined a better kick off to the book release!”

During Family Reading Night, which is free and open to the public, children receive bookmarks and must listen to at least two stories being read by volunteer readers in the classrooms. At the end of the event, the bookmarks are used in a drawing to award baskets of books.

The Washington High School Football Team donates money, raised in its annual Lift-A-Thon, for prizes families can use to buy books for their homes. Reading logs documenting a week of family reading are used in a drawing to award the gift cards.

“This year was our first time to reading night,” said Paul Scheperle, a local minister. “We have three kids. We all did our reading log the week prior. We turned in our family reading log and won one of the Target gift cards. We went to Target and each of the kids bought a book they have been wanting and we took the remaining money and bought a book that we all wanted to read together.”

Candace Kluba, a second grade teacher at Campbellton Elementary attended the event with her son, Liam, 18 months.

“We had a great time! Liam absolutely loved meeting Lily and she was so sweet with the kids. He enjoyed the stories and songs in the toddler room, too,” Kluba said. “I just don’t think some people understand all the benefits of reading with their children. We weren’t just reading that night, students and parents were involved in shared reading experiences that causes us to build relationships, share emotions, and communicate about what we are reading, which builds comprehension. Reading is not just a thing to do; it is an experience to engage in. The storytellers really help to make that happen!”

Students from Washington High School and St. Francis Borgia Regional High School shared stories about sports they love, a teacher shared a book she had written about horses, pet rescuers shared pet tales, and women roller skaters shared a message of empowerment with their story.

The Washington Police Department gave the final performance of the night on the main stage, performing a reader’s theater, a dramatic presentation, of the book “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

“Family Reading Night was amazing! It always brings tears to my eyes—because of how good it is for families and also because it is so much fun and also because it is such a successful collaboration of schools, people and organizations,” said Gloria Bauermeister, a parent educator with the Washington School District.

“Lily, a True Story of Courage and the Joplin Tornado,” by Carolyn Mueller, is available wherever books are sold. The newspaper serial version, “Lily’s Story,” is available for newspapers to publish at no cost through August 2014. Visit www.mo-nie.com and used download code: nnaread to access the Rules for Publication and feature files.

For more information on The Missourian’s Family Reading Night, contact Dawn Kitchell at kitchelld@emissourian.com.

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