We're on ABC — In More Ways Than One

January 15, 2009 • Posted in Uncategorized, visiting schools by

Last Tuesday morning a volunteer from Sit Stay Read! (SSR) braved the snow to chauffeur Hanni and me to a southside Chicago Public school. Sit Stay Read! uses volunteers and their dogs to bring the joys of reading to little kids, and it was our turn to make a school visit.

In order for a school to participate in Sit Stay Read!, 95% or more of the students enrolled must qualify for the
National School Breakfast program. The school we visited definitely qualified – the assistant principal told me that every child in the school lives in subsidized housing. “Most of them are from Harold Ickes,” she said, referring to the Harold Ickes housing project on Chicago’s near south side.

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Center for Literacy helped Sit Stay Read! design the program to coordinate with school curriculum — it’s meant to improve children’s reading fluency, encourage them to become successful readers, inspire them to explore the world through books, and help them learn to respect people and animals.

A Chicago Tribune story last year by Rick Kogan explains:

SSR’s mission is fueled by sad statistics: On average, a child growing up in a middle-class family will have the benefit of as many as 1,700 hours of one-on-one picture-book reading before he or she enters school, while the child in a low-income family will have 25 hours.

Sit Stay Read! Uses dogs and volunteers in all sorts of clever ways: children read aloud to specially trained therapy dogs, Human volunteers visit as “book buddies” to help individual kids, and people like me come as guest readers – the books we read to the kids always have something to do with, guess what? Dogs!

Guest readers also teach the kids about possible careers – when members of Chicago’s Lyric Opera visit, they read The Dog Who Sang at the Opera to the kids. Firefighters visit and read books about firehouse dogs. Visiting police officers read about police dogs.

I was asked to come with Hanni and talk about being a writer. “The kids will be thrilled to have you!” the Volunteer Manager assured me. I wasn’t sure the kids would be thrilled,, but I hoped my stories of learning new ways to read and write after losing my sight might encourage them to keep trying.

And just in case that didn’t thrill the second-graders to tears, I called my contacts at ABC TV in Chicago to ask if they might want to come along.

And so, a TV crew was with us at the school Tuesday morning to film the big event. The segment is slated for a Thursday ABC 7 Chicago 11 O’clock News show, I just don’t know exactly which Thursday yet.

In the meantime, Hanni and I are featured on another sort of ABC. The American Booksellers for Children (known as ABC) is a national organization of several hundred independent bookstore owners, and its current newsletter lists Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound as a top seller in their “Children’s Book Week Section. We’re in good company, too – get a load of the other great books on this list!

Hee-Haw-Dini and the Great Zambini by Kim Kennedy, illustrated by Doug Kennedy
Let’s Do Nothing by Tony Fucile
Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
we are all born free: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
listening time by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen
Mystery of Blackbeard the Pirate by Carole Marsh
Machines Go To Work by William Low
One Hen by Katie Smith Milway
Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem by Chris Monroe
Melvin Might? by Jon Scieszka
Say Daddy! By Michael Shoulders
Ocean Hide and Seek by Jennifer Kramer

Having our book mentioned along with a title like Monkey with a Tool Belt. is quite an honor! I hear that the Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound cover appears on the list along with our book title, too. And even as a one-inch image, you can still see the ASPCA award sticker.

But the biggest thrill of all today? It came at the end of our school visit. I had told the kids early on in my talk that I used to be afraid of dogs when I was little. As Hanni and I were getting ready to go home, Ms. Keller (the second-grade teacher) told me a student had one last thing he wanted to tell me.
“I used to be afraid of dogs, too,” he said. “But not anymore.”
“What happened to change your mind?” I asked.
“I like your dog!” he exclaimed.
All I could say to that? “I do, too,”

Sandra Murillo On January 15, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Wow! I’ll have to keep an eye out for that story. As for me, I just began my spring semester this Monday. I have all boring classes (economics, history, political science and biology.) Well, I guess biology will be somewhat interesting! *smile* At least it is a course with no labs.


MaryEllen Schneider On January 15, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience at NTA, Beth! Of course I’m biased, but it sure sounds like a fun time was had by all–exactly the point of the Guest Reader program.

Your kinds words about Sit Stay Read are greatly appreciated. Can’t wait to see you and Hanni on the ABC piece.

Barbara Shomaker On January 15, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Beth — I am also a Sit Stay Read voluneteer. My dog Lucy and I have been a dog team at the National Teachers Academy on the near South side as well as Lowell School in Humbolt Park. Your blog was so finely written — and captured exactly the amazing thrill of feeling a connection with children in the program. So thanks for describing your expeience — I look forward to reading your books.

Karen Schultz On January 15, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Thanks for listing One Hen among such a great listing of books. Sounds like the children really enjoyed your book and lovely dog. It’s been fun introducing One Hen and our website to the children, they are so much fun.
Again, Thanks for your support to help others hatch their dreams –
K. Schultz, of the http://www.onehen.org team

Marilee On January 15, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Hanni and Beth have come a long way! “Wags” had no idea that you would be inspiring young writers and helping kids like you overcome fears. Congrats on the ABC feature! Thank you for continuing to visit schools!

Ellen On January 16, 2009 at 2:07 am

I heard you today at the Batavia Public Library and wanted to check out your website and blog. I will be watching for the piece on your school visit with SSR. What a great program. I am pleased to see in the posted photo that the classroom you were in looks like a great place to learn and is well-appointed and cheerful. I love your new book. Well done! Thanks for making the trip all the way out to Batavia on a brutally cold day.

bethfinke On January 16, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Thanks to all of you for your very positive comments – it was especially fun to hear Ellen say that she could tell from the photo that the schoolroom we were in was “well appointed” – I wouldn’t have known that otherwise. I think I could tell from the kids, though, that the environment was cheerful –they sure were!
I am cheerful this morning, too –Mike, Hanni and I are taking off for New Orleans this afternoon. Warmth!

nancy On January 17, 2009 at 3:22 am

hey congrats Beth on the ABC, or should I say, both ABC things. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking to get my hands on a copy of Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem. Have a great time in New Orleans! I know you won’t eat any beignets, so have some vino for us at Napoleon House, OK?

bethfinke On January 19, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Nancy–we love Napoleon House but didn’t make it this time. But we managed to find some other good places. And we’ve managed to eat well, too. Details to come.

Beth On January 20, 2009 at 1:27 am

PS: Forgot to mention, Mike managed to eat a few beignets, too!

maleyah On March 14, 2010 at 5:21 pm

she was in my class room with her dog

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