Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

At Washington, D.C.’s Nationals Ballpark, where the Washington Nationals baseball team plays its home games in a sport that is rich in history, records could be set every time players take the field. On Oct. 8, the park hosted an event in which organizers hoped to make a different kind of history: by affecting the lives of millions of children and showing them that reading can be fun.

Jumpstart’s Read for the Record Campaign is an annual event that seeks to raise awareness of the importance of reading by setting a new record each year for the world’s largest shared reading experience. This year’s goal was to have more than a million people reading the same book on the same day–Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Representatives from Pearson said they surpassed that goal, thanks to the help of those dedicated to making a difference.

In what served as the first pitch for this year’s event, children with anxious faces and restless bodies lined up to take their seats next to the Nationals field, as adults from 40 local businesses and organizations–including the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, the National Center for Educational Achievement, and the International Reading Association–prepared to help them read their copy of Carle’s classic children’s book.

Since 2006, Jumpstart, in partnership with the Pearson Foundation, has helped thousands of children across the country take an interest in reading. By getting kids excited about reading, Pearson, Jumpstart, and hundreds of local businesses, organizations, and national celebrities hoped to increase children’s early literacy skills.

“So far, the Read for the Record Campaign has donated over 500,000 books to preschoolers,” said Kathy Hurley, senior vice president of strategic partnerships for Pearson. “And Jumpstart has managed to raise $4 million since 2006. At Pearson, our motto is ‘Live and Learn,’ and we truly believe that learning benefits the heart and soul.”

Also addressing the crowd was Stan Kasten, president of the Washington Nationals, and Steven Missimer, vice president of operations for programs and services at the United Service Organizations (USO).

“Two hundred fifty military children attended the Read for the Record Campaign this year, and we’re very proud of that achievement,” said Missimer. “Today, joining us in D.C. are 30 USO volunteers, many from the Air Force, to read and to support our partnership with United Through Reading.”

Sally Zoll, CEO of United Through Reading, explained how her organization is helping parents who are serving in the armed forces overseas read to their children.

“Just because Mommy or Daddy can’t be there physically to read to you,” said Zoll, addressing the crowd, “doesn’t mean they can’t read to you. We’ve already sent our overseas United Through Reading members copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and they have recorded themselves reading the books on DVDs. We then send these DVDs to you, their children.”

The festivities, and what the children had been waiting for, started when Bettina Deynes, vice president of human resources for the Nationals, read the book in Spanish to the attending children, and Brian van de Graaff, meteorologist for ABC 7 News, read to the children in English.

The book, which follows the growth of a caterpillar into a butterfly after feeding its tremendous appetite for a variety of foods, served as an apt metaphor for the event itself: Growing children, hungry for knowledge, with the right educational nourishment can one day spread their wings.

“We’re here to show you that reading can open doors, and it can be fun,” said Kasten.


Jumpstart’s Read for the Record

Pearson Foundation

United Through Reading

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Placing Reading Power in Students’ Hands resource center. All students deserve an equal education, but sometimes language barriers or learning disabilities leave some students lagging behind and struggling to understand words or concepts. Go to: Placing Reading Power in Students’ Hands