'Celebrity readers' share books at Brooklyn Elementary School

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Brooklyn - posted Tue., Apr. 12, 2011
Reading teacher Joanne Bell presents certificates of appreciation to David Johnson and Barbara McClintock at Brooklyn Elementary School's 'Celebrity Reader Night.' Photos by Denise Coffey.
Reading teacher Joanne Bell presents certificates of appreciation to David Johnson and Barbara McClintock at Brooklyn Elementary School's 'Celebrity Reader Night.' Photos by Denise Coffey.

The Dr. Seuss classic “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” was the theme of the Celebrity Reader Night at the Brooklyn Elementary School on April 8. Sponsored by Children First, Brooklyn, the evening promised children that reading could take them anywhere. To prove it, Heather Larrabee and Joanne Bell and a host of teachers and volunteers set the stage for the world and beyond in the hallways of the school.

Children could decide what stories they wanted to hear that evening, in a series of staged readings by well-known community figures.

State Sen. Donald Williams, Jr. (D-29th District) came from the hallways of the State Capitol to read “Be Nice to Spiders.” As children sat in rapt attention, the senator read and showed them the book’s illustrations. The story was about Helen the spider and the good she did in a zoo by keeping it free of flies. He used the story to remind the kids that the rule in the zoo was one we could all live by: Be nice to spiders.

“There’s a place for spiders,” he said. “Just not on your pillow.”

Across the hall, Resident State Trooper Mark Juhola read in his uniform. His reading was dubbed, “Humanitarian Heroes,” and his audience filled the room.

For history and fantasy fans, Princess Pellagrina, dressed in a floor-length gown with a crown in her hair, regaled young readers with her own teacher tales. You see, she knew first-grade teacher Marla Rufo very well, and she was privy to the stories an elementary school teacher could share.

After 20 minutes, a voice over the loudspeaker announced it was time for the kids to travel to their next destination. Again, they had three choices to pick from: First Selectman Austin Tanner had come from the Brooklyn Town Hall to read; Fire Chief Stephen Breen from the Mortlake Fire Company read “Big Frank’s Fire Truck,” and the Ukelady Exarhoulias entertained with her ukulele.

Breen took the opportunity to entertain, but also to pass along life-saving lessons. Dressed in full gear with helmet and heavy boots, he used the occasion to teach the kids about fire safety. “Who knows how to Stop, Drop, and Roll?” he asked. He also reminded them how important fire detectors were and that they should ask their parents to check the batteries in them. He told them about the meeting place plan he has for his own family, if a fire should ever break out in the house.

When it was time for the third reading of the night, a loudspeaker announced that the children should move on to their next destination. For the last reading they could choose from a creature double feature, a historical tale from Brooklyn or two children’s stories read by the author and illustrators of both books.

Lauren Rossi dressed as the wife of General Israel Putnam, who, legend has it, killed the last wolf in Connecticut. Rossi wore a dress typical of the late 1700s, when Putnam lived. And she toned down the story so that no one would have nightmares.

Illustrator David Lynch read the book “Old Mother Hubbard.” He showed the illustrations to the children as he read.

Author and Illustrator Barbara McClintock followed Johnson with “The Mitten,” a book she illustrated. She could barely convince her audience that a bear, a fox, a squirrel, a rabbit and a mouse could all fit together in a mitten.

Larrabee of Children's First, Brooklyn, was happy with the evening’s turnout. More than 100 children and their parents came for the readings and the Scholastic Book Fair. There was even a book swap for those students who wanted to trade in gently used and no longer needed books.

This ensured that when the book fair ended and the readings were done, the children could still go places in their imaginations with the books they took home.

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