Arthur Brown (pictured) listened to the first chapter of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden and pronounced it good. He prefers fantasy fiction, but he still enjoyed learned new words like “moor,” “cholera,” “imploring,” and “verandah.”
The fun learning hour took place on a sun-lit, storybook Friday morning on the Green during a tenth annual Read-In held by the LEAP.
Each of about 40 volunteers—like investment analyst and LEAP board member Susan Kerley (pictured)—chose a book and spent an hour reading aloud to the more than 300 kids.
Wearing bright orange shirts, the kids assembled from the five citywide sites of LEAP, the literacy-based academic and social development enrichment program that has been an anchor of the summer experience for a generation of young New Haveners.
Senior counselor Portia Green, herself a LEAP kid since she was 7 years old and now a junior at Southern, explained that LEAP kids have three kinds of reading experiences every day from 9 a.m. to noon.
They begin with reading aloud by one of the kids or a counselor. Then there’s group reading; the kids take turns passing around a single story they read together. When a kid has read enough he or she calls aloud “Popcorn!” and passes the book on.
Then there’s the third kind of reading: “DEAR,” or drop everything and read [your own book] time.
Kerley was a read-aloud guest on Friday. She made the most of introducing the kids to the classic story of a difficult little girl, Mary, orphaned in a cholera epidemic in India, and left alone in a house, with only a scary snake on the verandah, and all that takes place in the first chapter.
Taking her cue from Green, Kerley paused frequently in the reading to
question the kids, especially as new words came up. After she read that Mary was sent to live in a house on the edge of a moor, she asked who could define that word.
“An open field,” said Cameron Williams.
“Yes,” said Kerley and went on with the tale.
After reading a particularly descriptive passage of the new house and garden Mary was living in, Kerley paused again. “Can you visualize it?” she asked.
This time Arthur offered the answer: “Pretty, birds, robins.”
That Summer Slide
LEAP Acting Executive Director Henry Fernandez said that during the course of the summer the littler kids will go through as many as 30 books, and the older kids, eight chapter books.
“A big part of the achievement gap develops over the summer when kids are not in school, because inner-city kids are [often] not exposed to enrichment and don’t read much,” he said.
That slide was nowhere in evidence Friday morning.
Near Kerley’s group, another volunteer reader, Nick Phillips (pictured), who works for Alexion Pharmaceuticals, was in the midst of reading a chapter from Tolkien’s The Hobbit
He had just finished reading “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” a short story by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
“I thought,” he said, “the magical realism would interest them.”
Meanwhile on the north side of the flagpole some of the celebrity volunteer readers were also having their fun. Mayor Toni Harp read a book called Riddle-Icious by J. Patrick Lewis to a group of little kids; state Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield held the attention of some bigger kids with Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s The Bremen Town Musicians; and state Sen. Martin Looney read Nellie’s Promise by Valerie Tripp to 9 and 10-year-olds from LEAP’s Farnam Courts development.
Junior counselor Aaliyah Gallimore said of the senator’s presentation; “He’s doing great. He’s interesting [the kids].”
Fernandez noted that while the kids would in any event be reading at this hour in the classrooms, or under the trees at the locations of their respective sites. The reason for the public read-in, apart from the fun of kids meeting other kids, was to “send a strong message to families all over the city: To read with your kids especially during the summer.”