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By Denise Gary
Photos by Gloria Weddle and Denise Gary
The Little Flame Art by Steven Riley
Kids Need to Read participates in many fun activities, but there really is nothing better than simply getting a chance to read with kids! There is such a beautiful connection between reader and child, and to get a moment in their lives to help inspire them to read is magical! I was fortunate to be able to do just that this past week with three classes of extremely sweet and smart second grade students at Brunson-Lee Elementary School in Phoenix. The event was a result of our terrific partnership with Pi Beta Phi Phoenix Alumnae Club, which devotes each February to providing literacy support at the school through their Champions are Readers program. The alumnae club hosted KNTR for a reading of The Little Flame and raised funds to cover the cost of providing a copy of the book to each participating student. The kids also received Little Flame buttons, bookmarks and postcards. The Little Flame is an imprint of Kids Need to Read and is given to children who will benefit most from its theme of overcoming anger by focusing on goals.
I always start a reading by chatting with kids and telling them tales of my childhood, explaining how these specific events led to my love of storytelling and adventure. It is a fun way to get the students comfortable with my presence. The Little Flame is a complex picture book with some large words, so I warn them they will be learning new things. I relish the opportunity to discuss the meaning and importance of such concepts as tolerance and compassion. Kids are so smart and lower elementary school students are not too young to learn what these words mean. These children were no exception and completely engaged themselves in the discussions.
One of my favorite moments in the story is the spread, “Anger devoured their friendship.”
Having pointed out earlier in the story that The Little Flame is followed from page to page by two quiet little friends—Birdie and Mousey—I ask them to tell me what is missing from this picture. The answers are always adorable: a tooth, tooth brushing, the face, etc. But always, an astute child finally realizes Birdie and Mousey are gone. It thrills me that young children can divine the answer to such a subtle change. Once, I read the tale to seventh grade students and before I could ask the question, an observant young man pointed out that the two were no longer with The Little Flame. Whether reading to younger or older children, this is a moment of clarity regarding the destructive force of anger on relationships. It is a joy to observe such keen perception in children.
While reading to one of the classes at Brunson-Lee, I heard a girl quietly reading along with me near the end of the story. I was so excited that she was so into reading, I let her finish reading the book to the class! What a great experience!
I enjoyed some silliness with the kids over my Brain Cap, a special hat I wear “to keep the huge amount of knowledge I receive while reading from escaping out of my brain.” Oh, they loved it and of course, they wanted to wear it!
I came back to the school a couple of days later for another event and the kids of Mrs. Weddle’s class surprised me with a giant letter. Notice the comment about my “super cool brain cap.”
That letter made me very happy and is now proudly displayed on my office wall. It looks “super cool” there!
I was told Mrs. Weddle’s students all put on imaginary brain caps to work on math after I had left. I was also told the students ask to read The Little Flame over and over, and love to draw pictures from the drawing lessons included in the back of the book. I saw them take the teacher’s copy and show it to another visitor, telling her all about it. My heart soared to know this tale of a small, but determined creature made an impression in their lives.
What a privilege for our students to have Denise Gary come and read her book to our class! She is an animated story teller with a delightful book to share. Our students loved the story time and have really enjoyed having their own book! —Mrs. Weddle
The privilege is mine! Mrs. Weddle invited me to come back to read again. I cannot wait!
Many thanks to Pi Beta Phi Phoenix Alumnae Club for making this special day happen; to Steven Riley for his highly appealing illustrations in The Little Flame, and to the second grade teachers and students of Brunson-Lee Elementary School for their kindness!
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