My favorite events these days are the ones involving collaboration with partners. Those events offer a variety of venues, audience members, and excellent causes. Recently, I was lucky enough to be part of a lovely, lively event created by several community partners. Kids, families, and teachers who participate in our local Champlain Valley Head Start program were invited to a celebration to kick off a “1000 Books Before Kindergarten” initiative, and it involved six organizations creating the party, including Head Start, the University of Vermont’s ‘Kiddie Cats on the Move’ Program, the Vermont Department of Health, the Children’s Literacy Foundation, Burlington’s Fletcher Free Library, and Sherpa Kitchen, a local Nepalese and Himalayan restaurant.
At 3:15, children, teachers, and family members began pouring in the door out of the rain, filling the warm community room with happy chatter. Folks from the Sherpa Kitchen brought big aluminum trays filled with hot, fragrant food to set up on the big table at the side of the room for later.
My role in this event was as a visiting author invited to read my books with the children, share some tips with parents, and help the kids pick out books to take home. As they do for these kinds of events, the Children’s Literacy Foundation (CLiF) brought boxes of brand-new, beautiful books as giveaways. So before the event, one of the Head Start teachers and I laid out rows and rows of board books, picture books, and early readers in the back room for the kids to pick out after story time. (Every child gets to choose two books to take home and keep at CLiF events.)
There was a “happy mouth” table set up by the VT Department of Health with a giant incisor to brush with a giant toothbrush and scores of plastic-wrapped colorful toothbrushes and little tubes of toothpaste for the kids to take home.
The celebration began with a group of four very enthusiastic college students from UVM, who do fun movement activities with Head Start kids on a regular basis. It was adorable to see the kids race to their places on the carpet and jump into the familiar games with the tireless college kids.
After about 15 minutes of music-fueled games, it was time for the giant tooth and a little helpful information about teeth brushing for children. “Your mouth is very close to your brain,” said the Health Department’s friendly educator, “so it’s important to keep your mouth healthy for a healthy brain!” (Duly noted!) After the teeth came Rebecca from the Fletcher Free Library, who told the children about the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program and invited them to get library cards.
Then it was my turn. When I do author events, I bring my drummer friend, Sue, who lends a beat to the rhythm of my words and creates a special cadence for each child when we do a very silly group dance activity after one of my books. It’s such a joy to see children light up to the words and rhythms, to go from shy tiny strangers to energetic participants eager to pipe up and contribute their thoughts and ideas.
As a bookseller and a CLiF author, part of my role is to share the joys of reading with kids and offer a few tips to parents. The thing that surprised the children most was to learn that the seemingly unattainable 1,000-books-before-kindergarten goal could be reached by reading just three picture books a day! After story time, the children pored over the book tables, finding just the perfect two choices to take home.
Dinner time capped off the celebration, with whole families gathered at the child-sized tables to eat Sherpa Kitchen’s delicious food. I wish I could show you pictures (which I don’t for family privacy reasons), because the warmth and community spirit were so happy and lovely to behold.