By DAVID DUPONT
BG Independent News
Reading a 1,000 books to a child before they enter school seems on the face of it a daunting task.
Those little ones who attended the kickoff for the Wood County District Library’s 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten got five books under their belts just listening to Denise Fleming.
Fleming’s book “Alphabet Under Construction” was the free book given to each child signed up for the program.
Since it was a day made for gardening, as Fleming declared at the beginning of her presentation, the books she read were inspired by nature.
Before started she planted a flower in the hair of Children’s Librarian Maria Simon, and then donned a ringlet of flowers.
Then she set about cultivating a love of reading in children.
She did it by turning the letters in her name into a parade of creatures and flowers.
She offered a simple drawing lesson turning a series of ovals into faces of different ages.
She stretched the kids’ imaginations when she asked them what they saw in an oval inside a squiggly circle.
It could be an egg, a flower, a flat tire, a pancake with a pad of butter in the middle – Fleming added a pool of syrup around the edges.
It could be a hot air balloon in a cloud, or the reflection of the sun in water.
It could be, the author illustrator said, a story if you sewed those elements together with a narrative thread.
Fleming is a big believer in the goal of the 1,000 books initiative. Literacy is essential. Yes, there’s the fun of stories but there’s also the practical side. What if someone couldn’t read a menu or a recipe?
She and her husband, David Powers, learned the skills they needed to build a studio from books.
When she set about reading her books, she didn’t stop moving, and she got her audience moving as well.
She read “Mama Cat Has Three Kittens,” and instructed those on one side of the room act out the parts of the two kittens who did everything their mother did and those on the other side act out the other kitten, who napped a lot. Napped, that is, until he awoke and pounced on his sleeping mother and siblings.
“Pounce” is the kind of word Fleming likes. Words that convey action. Words that convey character. “Alphabet Under Construction” is all about those verbs.
Fleming said she keeps lists of words, including regional expressions she picks up in her travels.
Acting out the words helps bring them to life and make their meaning clear, she said. English as Second Language teachers have said it help embed them in the mind.
So there was a lot of acting out, and not just by kids. Fleming recruited adults to help her set the scene before the reading of her book “In the Tall, Tall Grass.”
Fleming wasn’t satisfied with the adults simply using the noise makers and props she gave them, they needed to prance about while doing it.
Fleming packed her presentation with joy.
Later she was asked how long it took her to write a book. She said about a year.
Fleming allowed that she could make more money if she cranked out two titles a year. Some of her peers set up regular hours as if they worked in an office.
That’s doesn’t suit Fleming. If the spirit doesn’t move her, she’ll do something other than work on art.
“Making a book for me is a joy, and I want it to continue to be a joy,” she said.
Sounds like a child’s approach to life, Simon commented from the wings.
Fleming didn’t disagree.
That’s the same rationale as she has for not using a computer. “I want to touch it,” she said of her work. “I don’t want to separate myself from it.”
In addition to Fleming’s visit, the kickoff included a resource fair of about 20 agencies that serve children.
Courtney Buerman, a child development specialist with the Bowling Green State University Child Development Center, was there both to represent her school but also as a parent with two children in tow.
Reading to youngsters from birth “is something we believe in,” she said. Research has shown over and over its benefits.
“It teaches them words,” she said. “It teaches them sounds. It teaches them everything they need to learn to read. … When you can see a story, when you can hear a story, you can read a story.”
The 1,000 books before kindergarten, doesn’t assume 1,000 different titles. Rather a book can be read over and over.
Buerman said that repetition is beneficial. The child learns the structure of the story and learns to anticipate what will happen. They see the same combination of letters and hear the sound and come to associate the two.
When she starts teaching again later in the summer, Buerman plans to promote the program, using some of Fleming’s picture books.
And at Simpson Garden Park, youngsters can experience “Alphabet Under Construction” as a story walk. Local educator Vicki Knauerhase, with funding from the Kiwanis, laminated pages from the book and set them along a path, so visitors can read on the go.
That counts as another step toward 1,000 books.