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Hundreds of children, parents, grandparents and volunteers of all ages celebrated the importance of reading at Family Reading Night this past Friday, March 2, at Washington Middle School.

The annual free community event, organized by The Missourian and sponsored by the newspaper along with the Washington School District and Washington Optimist Club, promotes the importance of families reading together.

Steve Leslie, a local musician, and his son, Beau, shared music with the audience before the main stage events got underway.

The theme this year was “Reading Builds Bridges to Everywhere,” which tied into “Tinyville Town Goes to Work,” the Missourian In Education February Book Buzz Pick about a happy town that needs — and builds a new bridge.

Author Speaks

The author and illustrator of the book, Brian Biggs, traveled from Philadelphia to share his story with the audience. Event organizers said Biggs barely made it to Missouri. A major snowstorm hit the Northeast and every flight after his was canceled for two days.

Biggs, who has written and/or illustrated more than two dozen books, shared his background and reasons for writing the “Tinyville” series, which currently includes two picture books and five board books featuring the characters — all community workers — in the picture books.

Volunteer Readers

Following Biggs’ presentation, volunteer readers shared stories in 26 reading sessions.

Readers included Sandy Lucy, Washington mayor; John Nilges, city engineer; Darren Johnson, UPS driver; Aaron Groff, MoDOT; Stefanie Virgin, Emerson Teacher of the Year; Sandi Hillermann McDonald;

Washington High School Concert Choir; WHS football team, WHS wrestling team; WHS girls swim team; WHS Spanish 3 students; WHS/WMS FFA; St. Francis Borgia High School football team;

Sign language students from Florissant Valley Campus of St. Louis Community College; Washington Fire Department; All Abilities Athletics; Four Rivers Career Center Teaching Careers students; Sheba, the Immanuel Lutheran comfort dog and her handler; and the Washington Historical Society.

The Stories Matter Committee and Washington Parents as Teachers hosted reading rooms throughout the event.

Children also could create crafts based on books, including many Missourian Book Buzz picks.

The craft tables were organized by Ruth McInnis, Washington Public Library children’s librarian, and hosted by Immanuel Lutheran School, Labadie Elementary, Washington NEA, All Abilities Athletics, Stories Matter Committee, Washington Historical Society Education Committee, Our Lady of Lourdes School, Clearview Elementary and Augusta Elementary.

For many years, the Washington Police Department has performed a reader’s theater — a dramatic presentation of a book, at Family Reading Night. Keeping with the bridge theme, Officers Doug Tollison, Mindy Schmelz, Zack Yawitz, Ben Jeurgens, Jason Gibson and Gregg Garrett kept the audience laughing with their own version of “Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

Prizes, Giveaways

The weeks before Family Reading Night, families are encouraged to read together for at least 15 minutes a day and log their reading. Reading logs were entered into a drawing at Family Reading Night for 10 prizes sponsored by Washington NEA and the Washington High School Football Team – which raised its donation through an annual Lift-A-Thon.

The prize winners received gift certificates for six hardback copies of the monthly Book Buzz Picks, valued at more than $100.

The finale of the event is a drawing for baskets, bags and other vessels, filled with books. These “book baskets” were donated by individuals and organizations interested in promoting families reading together.


This year, 60 donations were made by the following:

Four Rivers Teaching Careers, Augusta Elementary PTO, St. Francis Borgia Grade School, Clearview Elementary, Friends of Washington Public Library, Katherine Kehoe, Labadie Elementary, Linda Broehmeier,

Marthasville Elementary PTO, Marthasville Elementary Staff, The Missourian, Neighborhood Reads bookstore, Oltmann Funeral Home, Washington Optimist Club, Our Lady of Lourdes School, Penny and Steve Heisel,

Philip King, Washington School District administrators, Shirli Edwards, South Point Elementary PTC, Stories Matter, Washington CTA, Washington NEA, Washington School District librarians, Washington High School Math Department, WHS Science Department and Four Rivers YMCA.

Family Reading Night was initiated in 2001 by The Missourian with a small group of educators. The planning committee has grown to include 19 educators, librarians and sponsor representatives, including:

Amanda Nilges, Amy Steffens, Ann Joyce, Ann Loesing, Chris Stuckenschneider, Danielle Snider, Dawn Kitchell, Erin Gaebe, Jane Haberberger, Jennifer Wirthwein, Jessica Tollison, Judy Straatmann, Julie Frankenberg, Margaret Holtmeier, Penny Heisel, Rachael Eggert, Ruth McInnis, Valerie Jankowski and Ruth Ann Smith.

Sponsors for the annual event include The Missourian, Washington School District and Washington Optimist Club. Additional support for this year’s event was provided by Washington Public Library, Washington NEA, Washington High School Football Team, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of New Haven and Neighborhood Reads bookstore.

Family Reading Night is held each year the first Friday in March. In 2019, the reading celebration will be Friday, March 1.

A photo gallery of pictures from this year’s event can be found on and a thank-you ad, recognizing all of the volunteers and donors will be published in the March 17-18 issue of The Missourian.