Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Greg Jordan

July 18, 2013

Reading to children a fun change of pace from the morning routine

— — Mornings at the Bluefield Daily Telegraph’s newsroom have a routine of sorts. It’s a fragile routine, but it always starts with the police checks. One of us gets out a list of phone numbers — except for those among us with phone book memories — and starts calling the local 911 centers, state police detachments and other police departments and asks if anything new has happened that morning. Sometimes we learn about an early morning crime, structure fire or crash that demands attention.

This necessary chore usually falls to me when I’m working the day shift, but on Tuesday I spent my morning chatting with children instead of cops. The Daily Telegraph had been invited to read to children attending this summer’s Energy Express at the nearby Wade Center.

Local residents are invited to read aloud to the children. This helps the kids learn about the value of reading in this age of video games and computer graphics.

I have a good collection of books, but few of them are suitable for a read aloud session with small children. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy’s a bit involved for them and books like “Inside the Third Reich,” by Albert Speer, have more than a few inappropriate passages.

Fortunately, Editor Samantha Perry found a copy of the children’s book “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein, on a newsroom bookshelf. Not to give too much way, but it struck me as a story about unconditional love.

I headed to Bluefield early Tuesday morning and went directly for the Wade Center. I remember those days years ago when it was an elementary school, so it’s good to see activity instead of a vacant building. Within minutes, I was in the center’s auditorium and children under the watchful eyes of volunteers started to arrive.

While everyone got settled, I talked to some of the kids and showed them a tarantula care book I brought with me. I was the one asked to tell a story, but soon the kids were telling me stories. This always happens when I talk to young children. When I ask them if they have any questions, they take the opportunity to tell me a story.

Soon I had more than a couple dozen children at my feet, so I opened “The Giving Tree” and started the story. I read a page, then held the book up high so the audience could see the pictures. The kids commented on things like seeing a heart, and then hearts, carved into the tree.

Naturally, there were kids here and there who were distracted, but that was OK. When I was their age, it was hard to get my attention away from a Slinky. I must have gone through a half dozen of those spring things. But the children were well-behaved and seemed to enjoy the read aloud session.

Mary Frances Brammer, who invited us to send a reader, said Energy Express not only have read aloud sessions, but art, learning activities and athletic games for the children. Volunteers from Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C., were helping with the children this year. The children are also served nutritious meals while they are participating in Energy Express.

Programs like Energy Express give children enriching summer activities. In many cases, their parents or guardians have to work and make arrangements for baby-sitting. Energy Express not only helps to relieve the burden, it also gives the children much more meaningful things to do than sit in front of a television. If any of the children come away with a love of reading, it will be only one of the ways Energy Express benefited them.

I need to find some appropriate books for read loud sessions. As I said earlier, many of my volumes are not suitable for younger audiences. Maybe I could find an abridged and illustrated edition of “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien. “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” by Roald Dahl, or its sequel, “Willie Wonka and the Great Glass Elevator,” would be good as well. In elementary school, one of my teachers would read a chapter from those books every day.

Maybe I could try one of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I discovered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective in an anthology of stories for young readers. This particular adventure was “The Red-Headed League,” and it gave young readers a good look at Holmes’ powers of deduction. Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson stop a bank robbery before it even happens. Maybe I could find some illustrated versions of those stories; children always like pictures to go with their stories.

I look forward to reading aloud to children again some day. It’s an opportunity to bring the love of the written word to them. That reminds me. I’m reading a new Sherlock Holmes novel, and I have to make time to get back into it. I need to know how Holmes is going to get out of that mess.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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