As you’ll have gathered from my recent post about the ‘new look’ Story Seekers, I’ve been thinking a lot about the development of my ideas and how best to translate my somewhat jumbled-up vision into something more tangible and clearly defined. I’ve been spending time trying to work out not only what Story Seekers should look like, but also how to balance family life with starting out on a new career; how to get everything done when there are never enough hours in the day and other such dilemmas.
I was therefore really excited when Rosa Flores Dee contacted me via my Facebook page to let me know about the work she does with her ‘Rosa Reads 2 Kids’ programme in her local area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the the USA.
It’s so lovely to hear from people in completely different parts of the world about how they share their passion for reading and children’s literature. Chatting to Rosa over email got me thinking about how inspired I am by people, both near and far, and that perhaps I could use the blog as a way to badger them for more information about what they do and how they do it.
Luckily, Rosa was really keen to get involved and therefore I now present to you the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series of posts featuring interviews with the people whose amazing work keeps me going when I am having an onslaught of the self-doubting heebiejeebies. Rosa’s enthusiasm for what she does is so infectious and the amount she manages to fit into her life is truly awesome! I also like hearing about books that I haven’t discovered yet and all of Rosa’s favourite picks for reading aloud are new to me. Even though I don’t know the books, I love that Rosa and I look for the same things in the stories we choose to read aloud – the opportunity for interactivity is key.
Right, enough from me – here’s the interview!
1) Please describe the great work you do in your local area to encourage children to develop a love of reading.
I’m a busy television journalist who juggles a professional career, an on-line Etsy store, a children’s reading program and an attempt to publish a children’s picture book. I should also add that I’m currently rehearsing for the ‘Dancing for Big Buddy’ competition. It’s similar to the show ‘Dancing With The Stars’ (the US version of ‘Strictly’, for UK readers that aren’t familiar) that airs on ABC, except ‘Dancing For Big Buddy’ is a local competition that raises money to mentor underprivileged children in Louisiana.
I live in Burnside, a small town in Ascension Parish, Louisiana, which is very close to the mighty Mississippi River and about an hour from New Orleans. This part of south Louisiana is known around the world for its Mardi Gras celebrations, swamp tours and its cajun cuisine.
“Rosa Reads 2 Kids’ is a reading program that encourages children to read, through engaging children’s picture book readings. I started the reading program in August of 2012, and so far I’ve read to more than 1100 students.
Here is how it works: I contact schools, tell them about the program and offer to read to their students at a convenient date. Once inside the classroom, I usually start with a fun exercise and then get into the reading. I enjoy bringing the stories and the characters to life. I engage children by asking them questions as we go along and by asking them to repeat fun lines of text. I also take videos of the readings and enjoy posting them online for the teachers to share with parents and administrators.
At the end of the reading I take a group picture and tell the children that they will see themselves on television! I anchor the 4pm newscast at WBRZ, the ABC affiliate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During the newscast, we present the photo right before the weather segment. We present the picture of the group and we thank them for participating. Here is an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHJ4LeNigAk Children love to see themselves on television and they associate reading with something fun!
2) Can you tell us a little about about where your own love of reading has stemmed from? Why do you feel so passionate about this cause?
My love for the English language started at the age of three. I was born in Mexico and was raised in the United States. At the age of three I figured out my sisters could do two things I couldn’t do, attend school and speak English. So I started a campaign to go to school. First, I asked my parents if I could go to schools with my sisters. I was told I was too young. Then, I started hiding behind a bush and running and jumping into my sister’s school bus. The bus driver caught me and told my mom she needed to take me off the bus. After several attempts to jump in the bus, my parents found a pre-school for me. I grew up learning English at school and Spanish at home.
I’m very passionate about reading to children, because my parents didn’t speak English, so they couldn’t read books to me while I was growing up. I wish I would have experienced more books as a child! I wish someone would have read books to me; but there was no one there. I put myself through college and currently have two undergraduate degrees and one graduate degree. As a professional in the community, I want to be there for the children who perhaps don’t have a parent reading to them at home. I want to be there for the children who like me, are learning English at school, and don’t have someone reading to them in English.
3) Thinking about the children you meet, what do you feel are the biggest issues for those who are reluctant readers?
I’ve never met an uninterested child. The trick is using creative ways to engage children. Sometimes that takes reading to them aloud. Other times that means singing and dancing a story.
4) Which books have you really enjoyed sharing at your sessions? Why do you think they were so successful?
I’d like to highlight three books that I really enjoy reading:
These three books stand out because they are very visual, the illustrations are beautiful and the story lines allow me — as a reader/performer — to stop during the reading and ask questions. What’s going to happen next? Why do you think this character is doing this? What does this mean? They are page turner books! They allow me to say… ‘let’s turn the page to see what happens’. Children love that! They want to be engaged. They want to tell you what they think is going to happen. They want to be a part of the story. They want to be a part of this new world that is found between the covers. These type of books make it easy for children to enjoy reading.
5) What are your personal favourite books (both for children and adults) at the moment?
Right now, I’m rereading some books. I really enjoy reading a book a second time and finding little clues that I didn’t see the first time around. I would say:
Right now I’m also reading some nonfiction:
6) Do you have any plans to develop your work further?
I will be making myself available to read/perform the work of authors from around the world. Just like ‘book reviewers’ read books and write reviews, I plan to read books, perform them at a school and then post a videos online. So if your readers are authors and would like for me to read/perform their book, all they need to do is send me a copy. For more information about the program visit: http://rosareads2kids.tumblr.com
Thank you SO much, Rosa, for taking the time to respond in such detail and with such unbounded enthusiasm. The three main things I’ll take away from this interview are:
– That it’s worth trying a whole range of different approaches to get children excited about reading and increasingly this might involve the use of technology – be it e-readers, interactive whiteboards or television appearances. Obviously as a teacher I was constantly catering to the varied needs of my class, but I’m conscious that since being at home I might have become more attuned to what makes C and H tick and I need to keep my mind open.
– That motivation and enthusiasm will get you everywhere. You can get people on board with your plans if you’re always positive about the benefits and if you make it as easy as possible for them to get involved. There’ll always be obstacles and you’ll never convince everyone, but if you stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve then it WILL pay off.
– That it *is* possible to successfully juggle many different parts of your life, as long as you don’t expect to be able to give them equal attention at all times. I really struggle with the fact that when I have loads of blog ideas I feel like I’m not concentrating on the boys, but when I’m having a lovely time with them I worry that I’m letting my Story Seekers stuff slip. I just have to accept that things can’t be as organised and structured as I’d like – I need to put a bit more trust in myself that I’m doing my best and that it’ll all work out in the end.