Kids Read exposes students to authors

Storytellers this year are Andrea Davis Pinkney and Tony DiTerlizzi.

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WALLA WALLA - More than 3,000 children from area schools will head to Cordiner Hall on Monday and Tuesday to take part in the fifth annual Walla Walla Kids Read.

Created and funded by best-selling author and local resident Patrick Carman, the Kids Read event seeks to expose all area children to well-known authors over their elementary school years. Through the exposure, coordinators hope to foster an early love for reading, writing and art to enrich childrens' lives.

Since kicking off in 2007, Walla Walla Kids Read has introduced community children to Rodman Philbrick and Walter Wick; David Shannon and N.E. Bode; Judy Schachner and Blue Balliett; and last year's speaker, Jon Scieszka.

This year's authors are Andrea Davis Pinkney and Tony DiTerlizzi, both award-winning and bestselling writers. Pinkney will speak to kindergarten, first- and second-graders about her historical picture books, while DiTerlizzi will present to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders on his works of fantasy.

Through vibrant language and vivid illustrations, Pinkney's books tackle key figures and events in African American history. Her works cover civil rights events like the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins and kid-friendly biographies of musicians Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.

DiTerlizzi is perhaps best known for "The Spiderwick Chronicles," which follow the adventures of twin brothers and their older sister as they move into an old and possibly haunted old house. His most recent work is "The Search for WondLa."

Berney Elementary School librarian Michelle Shaul says the years of Walla Walla Kids Read author visits has had a definite impact. Works by Kids Read authors are among the more frequently checked out books from her library.

"Today there are no Skippyjon Jones books on my shelves, and all the David Shannon books are gone," Shaul said. "That was several years ago. And the kids still talk about meeting Jon Sciezska (last year)."

Shaul was an early partner of Carman's as the idea for Kids Read first grew. Carman was a Green Park parent and also a guest speaker in area schools. Shaul and Carman talked over the value of literacy, and the benefits of children meeting authors.

"We talked about how significant, how wonderful, and what a gift it is to meet the people who create what you're reading. It inspires kids to realize that perhaps they can do it too," Shaul said

Carman said the inspiration for the event, which he funds exclusively, first came as he did author visits and tours around the country. Events like the upcoming Los Angeles Times Festival of Books draw big names in the literary world, and attract huge crowds. But Carman said he felt the large-scale events often miss reaching the audiences that would most benefit from them. Particularly, low-income youths. The LA festival is held on the University of Southern Califronia campus over a weekend in April.

"They don't have the opportunity, as 8- or 9-year-olds, to figure out a way to get to events," said Carman, who is living in Los Angeles as his books are developed into films.

Carman saw Walla Walla as the right size community to develop an event that would introduce all elementary children to authors.

"The model for Kids Read, since the beginning, is everybody is on the same page," Carman said. "They're all going to have this in common. Kids who have the least advantages will have the same experience that every other kid is going to get."

Through the years, the coordination of the event has been fine-tuned. Elizabeth George, children's librarian at the Walla Walla Public Library and a strong advocate for youth literacy, joined the planning and is one of the event's main volunteers. School libraries and the public library are stocked with books from the visiting authors in anticipation of the event.

In the classrooms, teachers are encouraged to discuss and review the author's works prior to the visits. Publishers often provide resources and materials to build lesson plans.

"We found out the more prepared the classrooms were, the more fun the authors visits were," Shaul said.

When Judy Schachner, creator of the Skippyjon Jones series of books visited, children in the audience wore hand-made masks of Skippito the bandito.

Students in the Homelink program at Berney have for three years now created large-scale art pieces inspired by the author's works that grace the stage during the lectures.

This year, students in Cindy Palmer's language arts classes through Homelink have studied the lives of each author, and focused on a particular text. Palmer based writing lessons around the author's visits that started weeks ago and will conclude a couple of weeks after the Kids Read event.

There is a biographical focus, a study of the particular works, and some creative writing involved as well.

Palmer made sure not to wrap up the writing lessons until after the authors spoke.

"I think when you see the person, it adds a bit of life to your writing," she said.

Carman said he hopes to continue funding Kids Read through the years. When Carman skipped doing a Walla Walla Kids Read event in 2008 because of heavy touring, he immediately heard from community members eager to support him in making the event happen again.

"It's great to be known as a wine town," Carman said. "It would be super great for families, for our community, for the young people in our community, to look at Walla Walla and say, ‘that's a reading town.'"

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