March 2nd is Read Across America Day. It is also World Book Day, but in Hawaii, things are done a little differently. This is because in Hawaii, many of the classic children’s books regularly read to children during these celebrations have little significance. The culture is different, the local flora and fauna are different, and the way we do things here is different. So, a group of local children’s authors have taken a more regional approach to promoting literacy in Hawaii. For the past several years this group has devoted their spring to reading to the children of Hawaii and distributing locally produced books. Last year alone, these authors visited nearly a thousand students in Hawaii.
Recently, the authors combined forces with the Kauai Forest Bird Recovery Program for a synergistic effect. Not only does the group get to read books to children, but through the process, the children learn about a variety of native and endangered animals including Kauai’s forest birds. For the authors, literacy is not confined to reading, in fact environmental literacy is a major component of their program. This is due in part to subject matter of the authors’ books like The Complete Hawaiian Reef Fish Coloring Book, Albatross of Kauai, and Who Lives in the Sea? Ocean Animals of Hawaii.
The program is the brainchild of local author, Monika Mira. After banding together with a group of local authors, she approached the Mayor, to designate an official day devoted to literacy. At the inception of the program, the members of the author’s group already realized that the children in Hawaii are fortunate because so many parents and community members volunteer to read to the kids in their classrooms. So, the group wanted to ensure that the event includes much more than just reading to kids.
After a few brainstorming sessions, the group decided that it should include objectives like increasing awareness about the importance of reading at home to children by sending information packets home to the parents. They also wanted to provide an opportunity for children to interact with local authors at no cost to the school, and be able send the children home with new books.
According to the teacher evaluations, just getting to meet an author is a big hit. The kids get so excited about getting to ask the authors all sorts of questions about what it’s like to be an author and how a book goes from concept to publication. The authors reinforce the importance of reading by encouraging creativity through writing and artistic expression. During the program, some of the authors engage the children in multisensory reading techniques using sign language or the authors may actually facilitate an activity where the children get to illustrate their own book. (check out a cool video of the book that one class illustrated a couple years ago)
The program was initially intended to reach students in Kindergarten and first grade, but recently the group has also been reading to 2nd and 3rd grade students and has even been able to include special education students in high school. This has been really special for both the students and the authors involved. In fact, for author Carol Peacock-Williams, visiting the special education class is the most rewarding.
The kickoff event is usually filmed and appears on the Russell the Rooster show on local cable TV.
The program has been made possible through a partnership with the Storybook Theatre of Hawaii and generous funding from groups like the Poipu Rotary, Hanalei Lyons Club, and other private donors.