If You Give a Book to a Kindergartener: Lucille Colandro’s “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Cactus” (Cartwheel Books, 2020) proved popular to kindergarten students at Rosedale and Rockville Elementary Schools in recent weeks.
If You Give a Book to a Kindergartener: Lucille Colandro’s “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Cactus” (Cartwheel Books, 2020) proved popular to kindergarten students at Rosedale and Rockville Elementary Schools in recent weeks.
One of the absolute joys of being a grandparent comes from reading with my grandsons. Despite hoping that at least one of their favorite books gets itself lost — since we have nearly read the cover off of it — I find myself hoping that they’ll both come to love reading as much as their grandmother and I have.

Multiply that satisfaction when we are asked to read to a class of kindergartners; that’s happened twice in the past few weeks as we — members of the Parke Vermillion Retired Teachers Association — visited classrooms at Rockville and Rosedale elementary schools to read a favorite book to energetic 5- and 6-year-olds who found it anything but tedious.

The PVRTA began the program a few years ago in association with both the Parke County Community Foundation and the Vermillion County Community Foundation. Through the “If You Give a Book to a Kindergartener” project, the three organizations see to it that every kindergarten student in both Parke and Vermillion counties get a book of their own, while volunteer retirees read to most of the kindergarten classes every spring. This year alone, 620 books were meted out to the children, and we hope their new reads make a difference in their lives.

The first stop for us was Rockville Elementary School. Along with PVRTA members Donna Woodard and Carolyn Collins, my wife, Joanie, and I met the kids just after their return from recess. I read to Alexa Tyrell’s “Young Fives” class, and surely there was never a more enthusiastic bunch born to hear my renditions of Lucille Colandro’s “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Cactus” (one of 17 books in a series) and Todd Arnold’s “Fly Guy” (the first of 11 installments). As a matter of fact, their questions began before I ever opened a book.
As we gathered on a rug near the teacher’s desk, Tyrell quickly began to use the new-found minutes of spare time to begin preparing for the next lesson, and one rather verbal young lady earnestly asked me, “So, why are you old?”

“Well, I just am,” I replied. “Surely you all have grandparents or friends who are old too,” I added, realizing that despite being happy to be back in a classroom again, no amount of eagerness can hide my craggy hands and wrinkled brow.

As the reading got underway — I thought it went swimmingly — another of the kids asked me, “Why are you wearing a ring that looks like a girl’s?” That question struck at my manhood a bit more deeply, and then I realized she was talking about my college class ring, that has a blue stone in it. Apparently, she knows a girl who has a blue ring.

A few days later, Joanie and I headed down the road to Rosedale Elementary and the classrooms of Rhonda Sudduth and Cassidy Urbain; both groups were enjoying “Nametag Day,” on which they got to wear a tag bearing the name of their choice (my favorite was “Knuckles”). Deciding to team up, and with our youngest grandson in tow, we gathered the kids around the young Hotshots’ own reading rugs and enjoyed sharing Mo Willems’ “Knuffle Bunny” and two of Colandro’s books. When we introduced ourselves as “retired,” Joanie asked the children if they knew what the term meant. One little guy responded with, “That’s when you are old and they don’t let you work anymore.”

We learned all over again that day that children love to be read to, even when their vocabularies are quite small. In our case, the students seemed to be learning as much about listening and understanding than reading, even though we couldn’t take the time to sound out the words for them. They learned more about anticipation, about rhyming, about sounds; they saw, and clearly not for the first time, that reading a book, even one delivered through 2,000-year-old technology and not the newest electronic device, can be fun and not just work. It is a lesson we hope they take with them through the years.

After the reading was over, we decided — since our oldest grandson was in the mix of listeners too — to stay on for lunch. Despite the tiny cafeteria seats, we enjoyed dining with five boys who did more than their part in keeping the conversation going. “Batman,” “Backpack,” “Golden Steve,” “Sonic” and “Brog” made short work of their oranges and chicken nuggets, milk and broccoli, and humored two people — one with his knees under his chin — who “they don’t let work anymore.”

Being the old teacher I am, I’d be lacking if I didn’t remind adult readers that if we want to create a culture of reading for children, it starts at home, not at school. Plainly put, kids need to see parents and grandparents with books in their hands, not just a television remote; they need to find books on their nightstands, not just a battery charger; and they need a library card nearly as much as a hug. Or, in Knuckles’ case, a fist bump, even from a guy who wears a ring.
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