Martha Zarate (left) reads to daughter Briana Zarate, a 4-year-old preschooler, while daughter Leslie Zarate (right), a 7-year-old second-grader, reads a Magic School Bus story Thursday at Thorne Elementary School’s annual reading night. The Dearborn Heights school is part of the Westwood Community School District.
By SUE SUCHYTA
HEIGHTS – First grader Brian Watkins Jr., 8, knows why the Red Power Ranger is his favorite book character.
“He never gives up,” Watkins said, adding he wished he had superpowers to fight crime.
Thorne Elementary School in the Westwood Community School District kicked off March Reading Month from Thursday (March 1) with a Hollywood-themed family reading night.
Principal Leslie Simmons said the annual event is an opportunity to promote reading in a way that includes students’ families.
“The children invite their family members to enjoy… reading activities inside both of our gymnasiums, where they sat down and read with their parents,” Simmons said. “They actually got a snack when they walked in. We had a Hollywood theme where they… walked the red carpet… (and) took a Hollywood picture… we are just thrilled to have had this night tonight.”
Fourth grade teacher Kari Will said the students enjoyed picking out a free book (which were donated by the teachers and their friends), eating popcorn, and reading together with their family and friends.
She said her fourth grade students’ favorite books include “The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids” series by Debbie Dadey, Marcia T. Jones and John Steven Gurney, “The Magic Tree House” series by Mary Pope Osborne, and fictional books about animals.
Fourth grader Kendra Durkee said she enjoys animal stories, especially horse stories, which have encouraged her to learn to horseback ride.
She said she also recommends the four book “Animal Rescue Farm” series by Sharon M. Hart to her friends.
She said she likes to curl up on her bed and read.
Her father, Shane Durkee, said he used to read to her when she was a baby from a collection of Disney books, and said reading is the one thing she focuses on.
“She’ll sit there and read, especially when I tell her it’s time for bed,” he said. “Then the next thing you know she’ll be reading all night.”
“She’s the highest reader in her fourth grade class,” Angela Allen, her fourth grade teacher, said. “She’s a great reader.”
Kendra Durkee said she also likes “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis and the “Junie B. Jones” series by Barbara Park.
Second grader Leslie Zarate, 7, said she also likes to read the Junie B. Jones books because they are really funny, and she recommends them to her friends.
“Mostly I just like that whenever (Junie’s) bad she says funny stuff.”
She said she also likes the “Captain Underpants” books by Dav Pilkey, and “The Magic School Bus” series by Joanna Cole.
Leslie’s mother, Martha Zarate, said she started reading to her daughters when they were babies, and both Leslie and now Briana, a 4-year-old preschooler, enjoy the family tradition Martha started.
Martha Zarate said her daughters like to pick out their own bedtime stories, and they take turns picking a book. Sometimes Leslie reads to Briana, sometimes Martha reads, and they try to do it every night.
Danielle Perkins and her son, fifth grader Myles Melchor, 11, who likes to read books about Sponge Bob Square Pants, have also established a bedtime reading ritual with very positive results.
Perkins said that in addition providing good bonding time, it’s helped him progress in his reading.
“He likes to read a lot at night before we go to sleep and then sometimes he’ll come home from school with library books,” Perkins said. “He always wants to share. He’ll read a page, then he wants me to read a page, then he wants to read one again.”
Nancy Voltattorni, a teacher at Thorne who works with students with a wide range of autism spectrum disorders, sees value in exposing both verbal and non-verbal autistic children to books.
“Since a lot of them are non-verbal, it’s hard for them to read out loud; so just reading to them and exposing them to books gives them the same basic principle of understanding and wanting to learn how to read,” Voltattorni said.
Literary specialist Natalie Abousaleh, who teaches reading to kindergarteners through second graders, said she hopes that such events impress upon children the importance of reading.
Principal Leslie Simmons said that the event was the first of many events which will celebrate the month long celebration of reading throughout March.
“Tonight was our annual reading night here at Thorne Elementary School, and this was an opportunity to promote reading with families,” she said.
Simmons added that some classes celebrated birthday activities for Dr. Seuss, since March 1 is his actual birthday (Theodor Seuss Geisel would have been 108 years old this year). She said that some of the students are actually going on a field trip in a couple of weeks to see the movie “The Lorax.”
She said the school staff will also do poetry activities, hold writing contests and help students publish their own written material.
They also encourage older students to read to the younger students.
“We actually do what we call book buddies around here, so the older kids will go to some of the younger kids’ classrooms and they actually buddy up and they read to each other,” Simmons said.
She added that she hopes other adults in the community will help them encourage children to enjoy reading.
“I just want all of our community to feel free to come into Thorne Elementary, get involved, come in, read with us, sit down and have some of the kids read to them and really build a community environment.”
To volunteer, call Principal Simmons at (313) 292-1601 at Thorne School, 25251 Annapolis in Dearborn Heights.