ITEM PHOTO BY SPENSER HASAK
Amanda Kennedy’s K-2 class looks on as Lynn Museum Executive Director Drew Russo reads “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.
By STEVE KRAUSE
LYNN — There’s something unnerving and empowering standing in front of a room full of fifth-graders telling them about the joys of reading.
That would seem to be a conflict of emotions, but it’s true. It’s unnerving because you see all these faces, and all these people of different shapes and sizes and nationalities just waiting to hear the pearls of wisdom coming out of the mouth of a man upon whom they’ve never laid eyes. You can only hope you don’t disappoint.
And it’s empowering because children from one generation to the next don’t change very much. Their minds are like sponges. They absorb a tremendous amount and they retain it. They may all look at you with blank faces, but the wheels are turning inside.
It was into this maelstrom of humanity I walked Friday morning at the Harrington School. It was “Harrington Reads” day, in which people with a certain degree of visibility go into the classrooms and read to the students. The idea is to reinforce to them the value of reading, not only as entertainment but for education as well.
I got a fifth-grade class — a great age. And before we got down to it, I wanted to give them my view of why I think it’s so important to develop good reading habits. It’s because beyond entertainment or education, books provide a portal into the hearts and minds of their characters much better than television and movies. I asked how many of the fifth-graders understood what “portal” meant, and no one answered. Rather than tell them, I had them write it down and then told them to look it up in the dictionary. Perhaps I should have told them to Google it, but the subject of the day was books, not computers!
I was able to read them three books. The first was called “Horn for Louis,” and it was about legendary jazz trumpet player Louis Armstrong. In the book, young Louis, who hung around dance halls so he could listen to jazz, pines for a cornet hanging in a pawnshop window. He dreams of nothing more in life than to play that cornet.
Louis scrimps and saves to raise the $5 he needs to buy it, but just when he’s finally earned the money, his mother comes to him looking for some of it so she can give his sister a proper birthday party. Crushed, and almost certain he’ll never get that cornet, he gives his mother the money she needs.
In return, she gives him enough money to buy the cornet.
What was nice about reading this story to the kids in the class is that quite a few of them knew that Louis Armstrong sang the ever-popular “What a Wonderful World,” which means that could relate to the story a lot better.
I think it also resonated with them that I told them I was old enough to remember seeing Louis Armstrong on TV.
Next, we tackled the moon landing in “The Moon over Star.” A little girl on a farm pretends she and her cousins are the ones speeding toward the moon in July 1969, and then watches the landing on TV with interest while her cynical, hardened grandfather scoffs at the notion of a space program in a time when so many people on this planet are needy.
But when she tells him she, too, wants to be an astronaut, he switches gears and tells her that it would really be a great honor to the family if she could achieve that dream.
Finally, it was time to learn about Ted Williams and the year he hit .406.
The book went into great detail about how Williams was his own taskmaster when it came to practicing hitting. He wanted to be known as the greatest hitter who ever lived, and knew hard work was the only way that was going to happen.
But the crux of the book is that going into the doubleheader on the last day of the season against the Philadelphia Athletics, Williams’ average stood at .39955. He could have sat out and technically been recognized as a .400 hitter (a little math exercise in the midst of all the reading).
Williams wanted none of that. He played the games, went 6-for-8, and ended up with his .406 average.
It was probably not intentional on the part of Carole Shutzer, the wonderful Harrington librarian who organizes this day, to have the three books present a unified theme. But they did. All three speak to dreams and how important they are to children; and of how important it is to work hard to achieve your dream. And in the case of the Armstrong book, there was the added attraction of being faced with a real difficult choice, and despite every inclination to make the wrong one, Louis made the right one.
There is always a large contingent of city officials who take part in “Harrington Reads” day, including Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, Sen. Thomas McGee, Reps. Brendan Crighton and Dan Cahill, City Councilor Brian LaPierre, Joe Gill of Cahill’s staff and North Shore Navigators, funeral director David J. Solimine, Item CEO Beth Bresnahan, Taso Nikolakopoulos of John’s Roast Beef, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, former Lynn mayor Thomas Costin, Drew Russo of the Lynn Museum, Lynn attorney Charlie Gallo and Lynn Teachers Union official Brant Duncan.
Fox Channel 25 reporter Kerry Kavanaugh read to an assembly of children, and reinforced the theme — accidental or not — that it’s important to have dreams, to go after them, and, especially in her case, embrace all assignments even if it means moving around (a Medford native, she’s been in Montana, Iowa, Florida and Atlanta before coming to Boston).
Best of all from my perspective, my son Andrew is a Boy Scout troop leader in Lynn, and Eagle Scout, and someone Carole Shutzer felt was worthy of joining us. So along with everything else, it was a father-son bonding experience. Not to mention the perfect way of giving back to all the people who made our lives what they are.
Steve Krause can be reached at email@example.com.