Celebrities and kids join to set reading record

Reading to her daughter has become a staple of Sheri Johnson’s pre-bedtime regimen.

Johnson and her 8-year-old daughter, Maya, joined more than 400 elementary school students at Washington Nationals Park Oct. 2 for the third annual Read for the Record national event, created by Jumpstart, a national organization that promotes literacy, especially among low-income families.

Students from Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia were a small portion of the 500,000 children nationwide who read the classic kids’ book, Corduroy, simultaneously last week, setting a record for the most people to read the same book on the same day. The 2008 mark broke last year’s record of 258,000.

Organizers hoped to raise awareness among parents that reading to children at the earliest ages has proven vital in grade school, pointing out that about half of kindergartners in low-income families have never been read to.

"We’ve been reading since infancy," Sheri Johnson, a Lanham, Md., resident, said before joining students and their teachers filing into the year-old Major League Baseball stadium.

Governors, mayors, and superintendents nationwide were scheduled to read Corduroy to children on Oct. 2. John E. Deasy, superintendent of the Prince George’s County, Md., school system—the seventeenth largest in the country—attended the D.C. event.

Children from coast to coast were read to by their parents and a host of celebrities, including rapper LL Cool J, First Lady Laura Bush, and NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer. At Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., R&B singer Mario Barrett read Corduroy in English while Nationals manager Manny Acta read the book—which tells the tale of a teddy bear and the girl who buys him at a shopping mall—in Spanish.

"Reading is a tool no one can ever take away from you," said Barrett, who posed for pictures with students, parents, and the Corduroy mascot before kids took to the pristine ball field for games and activities. "Today is a great start. … It’s a beautiful thing."

After reciting the story of Corduroy looking for the button that popped off of his overalls, Acta told adults in the audience that they couldn’t afford to be lax with daily reading lessons.

"We, as adults, are doing just an OK job," Acta said. "You’ve got to read and learn like you’re going to be on the earth forever."

Read for the Record’s final tally was bolstered by 10,000 military members who recorded book readings with the help of United through Reading, a nonprofit organization that provides books and video cameras to soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and Kuwait. Military personnel record themselves reading and send them to their children back home.

"Reading aloud [to children] is the single best predictor of success in school, and it’s such a simple thing to do," said United Through Reading CEO Sally Ann Zoll, who addressed the baseball stadium crowd before the story was read over the loudspeakers.

Sekou Biddle, executive director of Jumpstart, said the organization had arranged for adults to read to more than 7,000 elementary students in Washington, D.C., along with dozens of other metropolitan areas across the country. More than 3,700 books were given out in the nation’s capital, Biddle said.

"This is a concrete way to do something about the educational challenges our country is facing," he said. "It’s something that people can get interested in and engaged in. We can use this as a hook to get people interested in this issue."

The impact of this year’s record-setting reading performance, Biddle said, would allow Jumpstart to shatter the record next year.

"The echo affect of this year will make it possible to [break the record] in 2009," he said.

As Jumpstart officials and education advocates stressed the importance of early childhood reading, Sheri Johnson said her family’s reading habits have helped Maya become one of her school’s highest-performing students.

"Reading has truly become her strength," Sheri Johnson said, adding that Maya reads children’s books, magazines, and newspapers. "She gets to learn a lot of stories; it helps her vocabulary, and it helps develop her imagination."

The Read for the Record program is sponsored by American Eagle Outfitters, Sodexo, and Pearson.


Read for the Record

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