How to ‘Read Across Monrovia’

'The Great Fuzz Frenzy' was a hit at Monroe Elementary on Oct. 1, 2015. - Cover Courtesy JanetStevens.com
'The Great Fuzz Frenzy' was a hit at Monroe Elementary on Oct. 1, 2015. - Cover Courtesy JanetStevens.com
‘The Great Fuzz Frenzy’ was a hit at Monroe Elementary on Oct. 1, 2015. – Cover Courtesy JanetStevens.com

By Courtney Blackburn

Volunteers, from local business owners to parents to police officers, could be found bright and early on the morning of Oct. 1, 2015, laughing and striding with purpose to the five elementary schools spread throughout Monrovia.

At Monroe Elementary School, where Monrovia Weekly showed up through one of its own, sunrise was splashed across the hardtop where children in school colors of red, navy blue, and khaki played before the morning bell.

Monroe’s chosen “readers”—including Council Member Becky Shevlin, former mayor Mary Ann Lutz, Jennifer Ranger of the Dollmakers’ Kattywompus in Old Town, and our very own Susan Motander—met in a portable classroom right off of Olive Ave., at the southeast corner of the campus.

Pastries and orange juice were set up for those who needed a little breakfast to get them going. Around 20 volunteers sat while Principal Cyndi Lathrop smiled, welcomed everyone, and explained the process. Reading books were handed out to those who hadn’t brought one—the classic Stone Soup, exciting Tales of Robin Hood, and a Native American Legend of the Bluebonnet. One volunteer even brought her own beloved childhood picture book, published in the 1970s.

Then, it was time to meet the student body.

The “Pride Assembly” took place outside at 8 a.m., in the fresh, early-morning air. The sea of children—from Kindergarten to 5th grade–was respectfully quiet as Ms. Lathrop greeted them, and let loose with noisy elation in response.

After a rousing recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, each Reader was introduced, then guided by a student from his or her assigned class. This reader found herself amongst Sra. Cardenal’s second grade-DL class, guided by an adorable young lady with curly golden-brown hair and big hazel eyes.

Together, we formed a line and trotted inside to a cheerfully bright hall. Next to each classroom door, a row of hooks waited while backpacks of all colors and sizes found a home.

Inside, Sra. Cardenal encouraged her children to cluster around a chair set up in front of the whiteboard. She smiled, and in Spanish invited this reader to the front. Did we mention that Sra. Cardenal’s class is conducted entirely in Spanish, part of a bilingual early education opportunity at Monroe? Each student, already an English speaker, is receiving instruction, encouragement, and conversation in Spanish. That will certainly come in handy in the state of California!

This reader sat, and cracked open author-illustrator Janet Steven’s The Great Fuzz Frenzy, a picture book involving a troop of prairie dogs, a tennis ball, and the fracas that ensues when they decide not to share their found “fuzz.” There may have been high, squeaky pitches and low, barking voices involved in the telling of this charming and clever tale, with lines like, “Soon prairie dogs from everywhere were coming to see that fuzz. They came, they saw, they picked.” It was a hit, judging by the laughter and audience participation. After the story, we discussed what each student would do if they found enough fuzz. Suggestions ranged from the logical “I’d make pom-poms,” or “I’d paint it white and make snow,” to outrageous “I’d make a house and a pool!” Sra. Cardenal’s second graders are very creative.

Though they would have been happy to host this reader all day, asking questions and chiming in with more fuzz ideas, after 45 minutes it was time to head to work. Goodbyes and thank-yous were exchanged, and it was back down the cheery hall and outside into the full sunshine, with a feeling of satisfaction, amazement, and “Whew!”

A grassroots effort by Monrovia Reads, Read Across Monrovia takes place in March and October each year at all local public elementary schools. You can volunteer, donate, or learn more at www.monroviareads.org or by calling (626) 303-6600. Remember, readers are leaders. Dedicate your time, talent, or gift to help our Monrovia students succeed!

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