School Talk: Welcome to reading, El Dorado County style

By: Vicki Barber, El Dorado County Superintendent of Schools
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We’re “Wild about Reading” in El Dorado County. If you don’t know what I’m talking about — read on. In 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) completed a study about reading in America. NEA found a declining number of people who are reading and, more specifically, reading among young people is the fastest in decline. However, communities across the country are deciding not to let reading die. Through NEA’s Big Read program, community leaders are encouraging all members of the community to read and get to know a particular book each month. El Dorado County is one of those counties where reading is again becoming a top priority. February will see us “Wild in El Dorado County” featuring Jack London’s “Call of the Wild.” The Big Read program highlights innovative reading programs, resource suggestions for discussing literature, and Web sites to provide information about the authors and their work. For El Dorado County there’s a Big Read kick-off that includes a proclamation read by the county Board of Supervisors. In addition, there’s an online photo gallery of families reading “The Call of the Wild,” dramatic readings and portrayals of London’s life, book discussion groups, and an opportunity for kids to create their own “Call of the Wild” book jacket. Speaking of wild, I wonder if we could do a book jacket for “Where the Wild Things Are?” I suppose that’s another day and another wild. February may be Wild Month, but what of other months to come? The NEA has a number of selected classic books to choose from for the rest of this year. Looking over the list, one of my favorites jumped out at me. I read “Tom Sawyer” at least 10 times when I was a child. I can still see Tom eyeing the length of Aunt Polly’s fence measuring how long it was going to take him to whitewash that whole thing. Who can forget the scenes we create in our mind, when Becky and Tom are lost in the cave? Going to their own funerals was a touch of genius for Tom and Huck. I’m not going to tell you how many years ago I read that book, but suffice it to say I read it often enough to remember the details a number of years later. “Tom Sawyer” is definitely a book that caught my attention. Grabbing our imagination is part of the point of The Big Read. We in schools know how important it is to learn reading skills. Besides the everyday reading most of us do all the way from the recipe on the box of muffins in the morning through reading the newspaper in the evening (whether delivered to the door or read online), we read. What we may neglect is the wonderful opportunity to read literature. I’m as much a fan of Dan Brown as anyone, but we’re talking here about classic literature that has lasted through ages of readers. The Big Read allows us the opportunity not only to read a book, but to experience it in a variety of forms: readings aloud, reenactments, movies, discussions, and whatever else a community might choose to make a book come to life. So read wild this month in El Dorado County and get on board for a year of big reading. Vicki L. Barber has been with the El Dorado County Office of Education for 26 years. In 1994, she was elected as the Superintendent of Schools.