Family Reading Night was a reading event for the record books, said Dawn Kitchell, educational services director for The Missourian and coordinator of Family Reading Night.
Washington Middle School was “bursting at the seams” with more than 700 children, parents, grandparents and volunteers attending this year’s Family Reading Night Friday, March 7.
The free community event was a celebration of all things reading — more than 30 volunteer readers, teens and adults; nine tables of crafts tied to books; a visit by a St. Louis author and the star of her story; and free books.
Local musicians Steve Leslie and Wes Alfermann kicked off the program.
St. Louis author Carolyn Mueller shared her inspiration behind “Lily’s Story,” the tale of a search and rescue dog from Joplin who helped in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado.
Lily, a 6-year-old weimaraner and her owner, Tara Prosser, also were at the event to share their experience firsthand.
“Family Reading Night at Washington Middle School was amazing,” Prosser said. “Seven hundred people attended and I think all of them got to pet Lily!”
“Lily’s Story” was a serialized children’s feature published in The Missourian and more than 170 other newspapers across the country beginning in January. Mueller’s children’s book, “Lily: A True Story of Courage & the Joplin Tornado,” was released just in time for Family Reading Night.
Kitchell said the event was the debut for the book. Only the publisher, author and local school librarians had seen it.
“‘Lily’ is a March Book Buzz Pick, so we picked up the book the day it arrived to the publisher in St. Louis and packaged it for our schools that afternoon,” Kitchell said.
“Tara and Lily had not even seen the printed book before they arrived in Washington,” she said.
“I was just amazed at the welcome we had and the love that was shown for Lily,” Prosser said. “We had a fantastic time, and we could not have imagined a better kickoff to the book release!”
During Family Reading Night, children receive bookmarks and must listen to at least two stories being read by volunteers in the classrooms.
At the end of the event, the bookmarks are used in a drawing to award baskets of books. A list of volunteer readers and basket donors will be published on emissourian.com and in a thank-you ad in the March 22-23 issue of The Missourian.
The Washington High School football team donated money, raised in its annual Lift-A-Thon, for prizes families could use to buy books for their homes. Reading logs documenting a week of family reading were used in a drawing of eight families.
Candace Kluba, a second-grade teacher at Campbellton Elementary, attended the event with her son, Liam, 18 months.
“We had a great time. Liam absolutely loved meeting Lily and she was so sweet with the kids,” she said. “He enjoyed the stories and songs in the toddler room, too.
“I just don’t think some people understand all the benefits of reading with their children,” she added. “We weren’t just reading that night, students and parents were involved in shared reading experiences that causes us to build relationships, share emotions, and communicate about what we are reading which builds comprehension.
“Reading is not just a thing to do; it is an experience to engage in. The storytellers really help to make that happen.”
Family Reading Night isn’t just about sharing stories, Kitchell said; it’s about sharing talents and interests woven into those stories.
“Students from Washington and Borgia high schools were sharing stories about sports they love, a teacher shared a book she had written about horses, pet rescuers shared pet tales, and women roller skaters shared a message of empowerment with their story,” she said.
Almost $800 in Scholastic books were given away at Family Reading Night in the form of Book Fair Bucks. Drawings were held to disperse Bucks through the reading rooms and youth volunteers all receive Bucks. The Bucks were redeemable for books off the Fair held during the event.
The Washington Police Department gave the final performance of the night on the main stage, performing a readers theater, a dramatic presentation, of the book “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”
“We’re excited to have our local first responders read to the kids and the policemen carry that to an entirely awesome level,” Kitchell said. ”For the past few years we’ve had them on the main stage because we couldn’t fit everyone who wanted to watch them in a classroom!”
The Missourian, Washington School District and Washington Optimist Club sponsored this year’s Family Reading Night. Pepsi Cola Bottling Company of New Haven, Washington Public Library and Washington NEA provided additional support.
More than 100 volunteers are involved in the execution of Family Reading Night, Kitchell said, including a dedicated group of teachers, librarians and newspaper professionals who serve on the planning committee.
A full listing of the volunteers as well as a photo gallery from Family Reading Night can be found on emissourian.com.