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Children’s storyteller Mo Willems visits Mosier Elementary School
Mo Willems reads a question from a Mosier Elementary School student during the presentation. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS –
By SARAH ROBERTSON
Friday, February 09, 2018
SOUTH HADLEY — An award-winning children’s author and illustrator had a message for students at Mosier Elementary School on Thursday: They’re just like him.
“Do you like to make up stories? Do you like to make drawings?” Northampton native Mo Willems asked the restless second-graders sitting on the cafeteria floor. “Then that makes you an author illustrator just like me.”
The author’s visit was part of his mission to inspire young readers in struggling schools.
Wiggling, dancing and shouting as he read aloud two illustrated stories, Willems brought to life the books that the students read as part of the school’s curriculum. After the presentation, he gifted each of the 139 second-graders one of his books, and donated 60 picture books by various authors to the school library.
“It’s about literacy, and an effort to have kids reading books by real authors and also thinking of themselves as authors,” said Brook Beaulieu, a reading specialist for the school. “Also, just seeing him as a real person. I think sometimes that entity of an author is mysterious to kids.”
Each year, Willems visits one Title 1 school, meaning a school where a high percentage of students come from low-income families. Usually he books visits years in advance, but when another school cancelled in December, he reached out to the South Hadley school that contacted him just months earlier.
“Of course, we jumped on it and said ‘absolutely,’” Mosier Principal Paul Goodhind said. “I’ve had other authors visit other schools before, but never one this animated. We’re lucky to have him.”
Danielle Kotfila, another reading specialist, played an instrumental role in getting Willems to come to the school. Working in small groups for 30 minutes at a time, reading specialists help students by supplementing regular classroom education with specialized instruction and attention. Their positions are paid for by federal funds through the Title 1 program.
Earlier in the week, students thought of questions for Willems and wrote them on colored strips of paper for him to choose at random. In response to one question, Willems said he wrote his first book in second grade; a story about a bumbling hero who lost his brain in a space accident, called “Laser Brain.”
“For them to hear that he wrote his first book in second grade, that’s huge,” Kotfila said. “It’s inspiring. Maybe there’s another Mo Willems hidden among them now.”
Willems won six Emmy awards between 1993 and 2002 working as a writer and animator for “Sesame Street,” all while performing stand-up comedy around New York City and other animation work for Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. Three of his books have won the Caldecott Honor, including his first published 15 years ago, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”
“The days I write are the days I turn off my telephone, I don’t look at my computer,” Willems said, explaining his writing process to the students. He starts in a large room, banging his head against a wall until he comes up with an idea, a seed, that he plants in a notebook and returns to water and grow.
“And then eventually it grows and grows and grows and I keep coming back to it for a long time until it becomes a giant beautiful tree with beautiful fruit,” Willems said. “That I can cut down and burn for profit.”
The now 49-year-old Willems grew up in New Orleans, and after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 he returned to visit schools devastated by the storm. Seeing they had nothing, and knowing the importance of literacy and education, he started sending books to his friends in Louisiana, and has not stopped.
“That was a transformative moment,” Willems said. “There’s not much I can do but the little I can do I know I have to at least try.”
Mo Willems reads one of his books to a group of students at Mosier Elementary School Thursday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS
Since Willems partnered with the nonprofit First Book seven years ago, the organization has donated more than 62,000 of his books to second graders in Title 1 schools in Louisiana and Massachusetts. First Book has distributed more than 170 million books and educational resources to children in need in over 30 countries since its founding in 1992.
“For a lot of kids, writing can be hard. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of grit to get through the process,” said Jennifer Weeks, who teaches second grade. “Seeing someone who is a celebrated author having maybe the same kind of struggle they do from time to time and identifying that can be really helpful.”
In partnership with the Eric Carle Museum and First Books, Willems now puts on an annual “Friendiversary” in celebration of his two iconic characters, Elephant and Piggie. As part of the celebration, the organization distributes books to schools in Massachusetts and Louisiana, Willems visits and donates books to a Title 1 school, and the Eric Carle museum offers free admission for the day.
“Someone who writes these books for kids must really love them,” Beaulieu said. “He knows what kids are going to find funny. Its so fun to read them.”
Mo Willems gets a high-five from a Mosier Elementary School student during the presentation. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS –
This Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is the next “Friendiversary” celebration at the museum. The first several hundred attendees will receive free copies of Willems’ books, and free roundtrip transportation will be provided for families from the Holyoke Mall bus stop and the public parking lot behind Wilson’s Department Store in Greenfield.
“If a kid has a book in their home, they are exponentially less likely to go to prison, more likely to have fulfilling jobs and stable relationships,” Willems said. “There is a direct correlation. To have a book in your home is a real game-changer.”
Sarah Robertson can be reached at email@example.com
Mo Willems talks to a group of students at Mosier Elementary School Thursday afternoon. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS –
GRADE 2 INTRODUCTORY LETTER
Dear Parent or Guardian:
Your child will participate in Leveled Literacy Intervention, or LLI, as part of his/her child’s Title I Service this year. He/she will have daily thirty-minute lessons during which he/she will read exciting books, write in response to their reading, and learn about phonics. The LLI lessons are given in addition to the regular reading instruction your child receives in the classroom.
Your child will bring home a “Take-Home Book,” which is a copy of a book he/she has already read in school. Your child can read the Take-Home Book to you, an older brother or sister, or other caregiver. If everyone is busy, you can even have your child read to his/her stuffed animal! The idea is to have him/her read every night to give him/her time to practice what he/she has learned about reading. Reading must be done each night and counts as the reading they need to do for their classroom teacher as well (two birds, one stone). Please be sure to return the book to school each day in their book bag and sign their bookmark indicating that they have done their nightly reading. Speaking of book bags, your child has also been given either a purple, red or yellow canvas bag to borrow. If this bag is damaged beyond repair or lost, the replacement cost is $4.00. Like the books, it is school property. If books are in it at the time of being misplaced, there will be an additional fee for those, so PLEASE be responsible with the books and book bag!
In addition to the Take-Home Book, your child will often bring home a “fold sheet” that he/she may have started in our group after the LLI lesson or that he/she wants to complete at home. Most likely, he/she will be excited to show you what he/she has done on the fold sheet and will want to share it with you. The completion of this sheet is optional.
He/she will also bring home a Parent Letter each day they bring home the fold sheet. It contains some simple ideas for reading and writing activities you can do together. They include things to talk about with your child, simple games, and other things that will help your child grow as a reader and writer. You can do all three activities or as many as you have time to do. They are not homework but are suggestions that will make learning fun! Some of the games can be played with small paper letter/word cards that I will be sending home in their word bank. These are words your child must know automatically, so please practice them together.
I hope that you will find time to do some of the phonics and word activities from LLI with your child. Remember, if you have to make a choice, it is most important that your child read the Take-Home Book. Most important, enjoy your time together reading, writing, and talking!
Danielle Kotfila, Reading Specialist
GRADES 3 & 4 INTRODUCTORY LETTER
Dear Parent or Guardian:
Your child will participate in Leveled Literacy Intervention, or LLI, as part of his/her child’s Title I Service this year. In addition to reading instruction in the classroom, your child will participate in Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) for 30-45 minutes each day.
The lessons will address comprehension, vocabulary development, fluency practice, phonics and word study, and writing about reading. Your child will bring home an LLI Literacy Bag/Portfolio, containing a book, a Literacy Notebook, and some phonics and word study games that have been introduced in lessons. If this bag is damaged beyond repair or lost, the replacement cost is $4.00. Like the books, it is school property. If books are in it at the time of being misplaced, there will be an additional fee for those, so PLEASE be responsible with the books and literacy bag/portfolio!
Expect reading homework each night. The reading they complete for me counts as the reading they need to do for their classroom teacher as well (two birds, one stone). Please be sure to return the book to school each day in their book bag and sign their bookmark indicating that they have done their nightly reading homework. Assignments might be to finish reading a book, answer some questions, or place sticky notes in certain places of the book and be ready to share their thinking the next day.
Here are some things you can do to help support your child’s reading and writing at home:
- Read aloud to your child daily and talk about the books.
- Listen to your child read and talk about books together.
- Play phonics games together.
- Keep reading and writing activities fun. Enjoy your time together reading, writing, and talking!
I will be communicating with you from time to time about what your child is learning in LLI, but please contact me if you have questions about your child’s progress.
Danielle Kotfila, Reading Specialist
READING TO ROVER Program
Mondays, 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
South Hadley Public Library
Laurel and Sadie will be at the South Hadley Public Library on the 3rd Monday evening of every month.
Appointments to read to Sadie will be every 20 minutes during those 2 hours. Please call Meg Clancy at 538-5045 to register or for more information.
Why Can't I Skip My 20 Minutes of Reading?
Students who read 20 minutes a day will read almost 1.8 million words a year and by the time they are in 6th grade they will have read for the equivalent of 60 school days!