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Instilling a Love of Books, Reading

Librarian Kurt Stroh hopes to instill a love of reading in his school’s students. For Exhibit A in his effort, see Maris Guppy and Gracie Huizing burrowing into books on the library couch.

Maris is reading “A Snicker of Magic,” Natalie Lloyd’s acclaimed 2014 debut novel about a 12-year-old girl who sees words popping up everywhere in the magical town of Midnight Gulch.

“Some parts are funny, but some parts are sad,” says Maris, who seems engrossed in both the funny and sad parts.

Next to her, Gracie Huizing is deep into “Hoot,” a quirky adventure tale about a homeless boy trying to save owls living underneath a construction site. “I’ve just been born to read,” Gracie says, rather dramatically.

Judging from them and their third-grade classmates, Stroh is doing pretty well at making books come alive for students at East Oakview Elementary School. He’s in his second year as a teacher-librarian there, not only supervising the stacks but presiding over literature lessons. He meets with students twice a week to read to and talk with them about the library’s nearly 14,000 books.

“My main goal is to foster that love of reading, to ignite that spark to get kids excited,” says Stroh, a 25-year teaching veteran. “It’s amazing to have a roomful of kids who love to read, just sitting and talking about books.”

Despite cultural concern that digital media are pulling students away from books, this library hums with enthusiastic readers and a literary-minded faculty. “This building is so literacy-rich, it makes my job easier,” Stroh says. “They’re bombarded with literature all day.”

Maris Guppy (left) and Gracie Huizing burrow into books they selected
Maris Guppy (left) and Gracie Huizing burrow into books they selected

New Position Reinforces School Reading Goals

Formerly a first-grade teacher at East Oakview, Stroh last year was given the new position of teacher-librarian as a pilot project for Northview Public Schools. Stroh proposed the position to Superintendent Mike Paskewicz since the previous librarian, paraprofessional Denice Barker, was retiringafter 15 years.

Besides being good educational practice, the move was made because a new state law counts library time as instruction only if a certified teacher is there, Paskewicz said. It went so well that the teacher-librarian position was expanded this year to West and North Oakview schools.

Paskewicz said he had three goals for the change: increase excitement for reading; reinforce reading standards at each grade; and provide a resource and support for classroom teachers.

“All of the goals have been exceeded. This serves as evidence that our interventions are increasing the percentage of students reading at grade level by the end of third grade,” Paskewicz said.

Sierra Stoy (left) and Richard Toris have fun telling each other about their books
Sierra Stoy (left) and Richard Toris have fun telling each other about their books

There certainly is evidence of increased excitement for reading.

This year and last, Stroh held a student version of the prestigious Caldecott Medal for children’s picture books.  He and North Oakview librarian Carrie Davies chose 18 medal-worthy books, which students reviewed according to Caldecott criteria. Their choice: “Sam and Dave Dig a Big Hole,” which was an honor book in the actual Caldecott voting.

With a grant from the Northview Education Foundation, Stroh began collecting all the Caldecott winners back to 1938. He issued students a challenge to read 20 of those books between December and February. Twenty-three students met his challenge, and fourth-grader Viola Weber read every Caldecott winner of the past 77 years.

Contests and Author Visits Build Excitement

A “battle of the books” is now under way, featuring eight new and classic books and culminating in a “Jeopardy”-style competition at year’s end. Students have also met authors such as Laurie Keller, who visited thanks to funding by the parent-teacher council, and Natalie Lloyd, whom they talked to via Skype.

All of this Stroh describes in detail on his blog, Kids Talk Kid Lit. He credits fellow  teachers and literacy interventionist Karen Aupperlee for supporting the reading activities and the young readers.

The library is a brightly-lit beehive of activity presided over by Winnie the Pooh, sitting in a treehouse Stroh obtained from the former Pooh’s Corner bookstore.

Stephen Ladd (left) and Zach Daimler check out their books for the week
Stephen Ladd (left) and Zach Daimler check out their books for the week

“Good morning!” Stroh greets third-graders who gather around him on the floor. “What are you reading?”

Hands shoot up. “I read all the ‘Ready Freddy’s!’” exclaims one boy. Others name “Bridge to Terabithia,” the “Amulet” series and the “Dork Diaries.”

They then settle in to listen while Stroh reads from “The Quirks: Welcome to Normal,” about an odd family with magical powers trying to fit into the town of Normal, Michigan. They will Skype later in the semester with author Erin Soderberg.

As he dramatizes the characters’ voices, it’s clear Stroh loves reading to children almost as much as hearing them talk about books.

“Our kids love to read,” he says later. “I have kids who will run up to me in the hall and say, ‘I’ve just finished a book.’ They’re talking about books a lot. That’s really exciting.”


Kurt Stroh’s library blog

Caldecott Medal winners

East Oakview Elementary

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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