Reading Around the Campfire at Groveton
Guest post by Rocco DeBonis, Groveton Elementary School librarian
Late evening sunlight slanted through the forest trees. A chorus of birds and crickets chirped in the distance. A campfire, ringed by sleeping bags and canvas chairs, flickered in the dark. This was the scene of Reading Is Fundamental’s Books for Ownership event sponsored by RJ and Heidi Narang at Groveton Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia on June 4th. The campfire logs were paper towel rolls, wrapped in brown construction paper and arranged around an electric candle hidden in a bouquet of red, yellow, and orange cellophane. The forest scene was only a projection on the wall, and the sleeping bags were beach towels, but it doesn’t take much to spark a child’s imagination.
All week long, kindergarteners, first-graders, and second-graders enjoyed our Camp Groveton scene. However, on June 4th, Groveton’s pre-K class got to gather around our campfire and listen to Mrs. Narang read Good Night, Campsite, by Loretta Sponsler. After the read-aloud, it was time for students to choose three books each to take home and own, from the 1,300 books made available to them by the Narang’s generous donation. Some of them darted straight for their favorite volume of Pete the Cat or Pinkalicious. Others took the time to browse everything that was available, picking up various books, flipping through the pages, and putting them back down again.
When I see the deep thought and excitement that goes into their choices, my anxieties about the supposed demise of books disappear. I can attest that children love books and they love reading just as much as playing video games or watching YouTube. This is especially true when they are given the opportunity to choose for themselves what they will read, which is why I love the RIF program so much. In fact, many, many, many years ago, I came into possession of my first book—Clifford, The Big Red Dog—through a RIF program in Queens, New York. Choosing new RIF books every year turned me into a lifelong reader and learner, and, eventually, a teacher and librarian. When I saw that same spark of excitement and wonder in the eyes of my pre-K students, I knew we were creating a new crop of lifelong readers, and, maybe, some librarians, too.
Once students picked their three books, they brought them back to the fire to look through them and read with an adult. With the Narangs, RIF staff, both Groveton preschool teachers, my library assistant and myself on hand, there was approximately one adult to two children in the library. For the next half hour, we lounged around the “fire” and read books together. I couldn’t think of a better way to start the summer. When it was time to leave, the students hugged their books and lined up, but one boy was too excited to stand still. He blurted out, “I love the library, I love books, I love reading.” Based on his reaction, I’d say we achieved everything that we hoped to with our event.