Last year I volunteered at my children’s school to present an author kit to each of the first grade classes once a month. This basically just entailed being supplied an author that you had to give the class a brief presentation about and then read one of the author’s books of your choice to the kids.
This year I am not volunteering.
I may have mentioned before that I absolutely LOVE reading children’s books. It’s kind of my thing! I love doing the different voices, making large swooping motions with my hands to make a point and I love putting the mystery in mystery books!!
I thought this volunteer job had my name written ALL over it. It didn’t.
I kind of swept the whole “presentation” part under the rug. I’m not great at talking in front of large groups of people but these were 1st graders. I had nothing to fear…. Right?!
My first clue that I was making a huge mistake came at the meeting and handout of our author kits. I was given the author Audrey Wood. I wasn’t familiar with Mrs. Wood but I didn’t care; the big tote of books they gave me was filled with brightly covered front pages and amazing titles. I knew I was going to love Audrey! However, as we made introductions with our fellow volunteer counterparts I realized everyone else who was volunteering was a retired school teacher. I gulped. I have NO experience with kids besides my own. I have never been to college. I certainly do NOT have a degree in child psychology or have any idea what makes a kid’s mind tick. And then the lady in charge of the volunteer program asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand. WHY DID I RAISE MY HAND??? It makes me want to kick myself all over again today just thinking about it. I asked, “How do you hold a book when you’re reading to a group of children?” You see, when I read at home my kids sit next to me on the couch so while I’m reading they can see the pictures at the same time. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do this with a large group so I wanted to know if I held the book in my lap and then showed the pictures after each page or if I held it up the whole time and tried to read at an angle. The head of the volunteer group was very nice and said she preferred to hold it up the whole time but I was almost certain I saw a look of panic in her eyes. How had they let someone like me slip through the cracks. I clearly wasn’t qualified to be reading to small children. She probably wanted to give me a reading test to see if I could in fact actually READ. I saw her kind of eyeing up my tote box full of books and I think she was mentally trying to figure out how she grab it away from me and run. I actually thought about just handing it back over but knew I was made to do this volunteer job….I LOVE TO READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS!
My first reading assignment was to be in two weeks so I began to feverishly pour over all of Audrey’s books. I read every article I could find about Mrs. Wood, perused her website and even went to the library to check out the rest of her books that were not included in the author kit. Night and day I read about Audrey and read her books from flap to flap. I KNEW Audrey Wood backward and forward. My children had to endure long sessions of me explaining about Audrey and sitting on the floor while I held my books up and practiced reading from an angle.
I owned this assignment, took it super serious and when I was done EVERY 1st grader was going to know who Audrey Wood was, fall in love with her as much as had and WANT TO BECOME AUTHORS THEMSELVES!!
I began with my daughter’s class. All 18 children looked so innocent and sweet. They sat nicely with their hands in their laps and stared silently at me, ready for me to begin. Or were they scrutinizing me? I couldn’t tell. I started to talk about Mrs. Audrey Wood and suddenly everything disappeared from my head. I couldn’t remember anything. I started stumbling with my words. The more I stumbled the more I thought the kids were judging me. Behind their sweet faces there was probably raucous laughter waiting to burst out. The more I began to wonder what they were thinking the more lost my words got and the hives started to break out all over my neck and face. I quickly moved on to the book. I picked Tickleoctopus. This book is about cave people who discover an animal called the Tickleoctopus. This book is amazing. It gives kids a glimpse into prehistoric life plus has a huge opportunity to do CAVEMAN VOICES!!! I was in my element reading the book and the horror that had happened a few minutes prior melted away as I gave the performance of my life! After I was done the kids clapped, cheered and asked me to read it again!
I went home and told my husband about my utter disaster. My husband does this sort of thing for a living. He gets up in front of people and talks and teaches them almost every day. He told me just to talk from my heart and not to worry about it so much. These were 1st graders after all. They clearly are NOT judging me.
The next time I went to school to a different classroom, the words flowed out of my mouth with ease. I gave the kids a lot of information about Audrey. I put it in terms I thought they could understand. I gave them reasons to want to become authors themselves. I shared with them the fact that when Audrey was in elementary school she wanted to be an author so bad that she actually scribbled out the name of her favorite author, Dr. Suess, on a book and wrote her own name over it (immediately after I told them this, I regretted it. What if I had just caused a rash of book graffiti artists because they all wanted to be like Audrey). I told them that Audrey met Don Wood in college; they fell in love, got married and began working on children’s books together. (A child asked what Audrey’s maiden name was because if Don’s last name was Wood, Audrey’s last name couldn’t have always been Wood. I had no idea what the answer was. I felt like a complete Audrey Wood fraud.). I told them that Audrey began writing books when she was a new mom and was now in her mid-60’s…probably the same age as some of their grandparents. (A child raised their hand and said that was the same age as their dad. I felt horrible. Of course there are older parents. Why did I make this statement? What if I gave that child a complex for the rest of their life?) Again, I moved onto the book and got another round of applause and pleas for me to read it again.
I did this for the rest of the year, each time causing hives and creating questions in my head wondering if I had just scarred these poor 1st graders for life. The only thing I nailed was reading the book. Every time I was at the school for some reason or another a child would approach me and say, “Hey, you’re the lady that came and read us Tickleoctopus! I LOVED THAT BOOK!!!”
I loved that book too and I love a million more children’s books but I will leave the teaching to the experts. Hopefully someone new will volunteer this year and be able to portray Audrey Wood the way she deserves to be portrayed and I will stick to reading to my kids, the neighbor kids and any friends that pop on over because it’s kind of my thing!
For more information about Audrey Wood please click here for her site!
If you have a child who is struggling with reading please click here for Dr. Connie Hebert’s blog. She is a literary specialist who has a lot of ideas on how to guide those children who need a little extra help. She has a published book and another due out soon. Check it out!!!