24 Hours -- Part Thirteen

"Sorry about that guys," I say as I take my seat again.  All the kids are looking at me like I'm about to disappoint them.  I hate that.  I look around the room and try to make sure that all the adults in the room are ok with my departure and quick return.

"It's ok," Mr. Camdon answers for the class and other adults.

"So who is first?" I ask looking around at the kids.

"Well," Mr. Camdon said, "In our math class we decided that we'd go in order of birthdays, but instead of going January and so on, we decided that the person that had the birthday closest to yours would go first."

A little girl got up and walked towards me.  She seemed nervous but she smiled.  "Can you sign my notebook?" she asked.

"Sure," I said and looked around suddenly for a pen.  A sharpie was stuck in my hand and I signed her book with her name, spelling it out with her as she said it.  "B-e-l-l-a.  Bella."

"That's a really pretty name," he said, "It means beautiful."

"I know," she says with a shy voice, "My mommy and daddy said that I was pretty when I was born so they named me that."

"They made a good choice," I say.

I got through most of the kids quickly.  The boys didn't look that excited about the whole thing until I told them a basketball story and then they all wanted me to find a park and slam dunk for them.  It's so easy to win over a crowd once you figure out their interests.  It was a nice change of pace from the screaming girls and guys that would basically run over you rather than say hello.

When it's announced that the press is going to be let in about fifteen minutes later, all the kids seem satisfied with their autographs and I ended up taking a class picture with them and Mr. Camdon, which was a last minute thing.

"Ok kids," Mr. Camdon says when the kids are sitting down.  "The reporters are going to come in now so I want you to remember your manners and listen closely when we read the story.  Sound good?"

They all nod and answer together.  "Yes!"

I don't know what kind of drugs they slipped these kids in their kool-aid, but these kids are like the Stepford Wives or something.  They're too good.  I don't blame them for being antsy or anything.  Jonathan is fairly good, but when there is a pressure to behave correctly he gets nervous and it's almost like just the pressure that gets him to act badly.

The press is let in.  The group is fairly small.  There are four photographers, a few reporters and two different television cameras that come in and sit at the far side of the room as Michael Wilson starts his presentation.

"'Kids Who Read Succeed' is more than just a slogan -- it's a fact. Studies have shown that reading and library use are key factors in a child's intellectual development. Those who read as children are more likely to enjoy the success and pleasure that come from making reading a lifelong activity. And getting an early start by reading aloud to young children is especially important."

I sit back and look at the kids and try to remember what school was like.  I know that I had a good time in school.  It never was my favorite thing to do, but I know that now I couldn't imagine not being able to read.  It seems like such a simple thing that you do every day and kind of take for granted.

"Half of a child's intellectual development occurs between birth and four years of age. Children who are read to from an early age tend to learn new sounds, increase their vocabularies and stretch their imaginations more than other children. And once children become old enough to read themselves, the benefits continue."

Michael clears his throat.  "A U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement study found that the most powerful predictor of future reading success among pre-schoolers is awareness of phonemes (the speech sounds that correspond to letters). According to the study, this awareness is closely linked to exposure to reading in the home: "...reading to children is the most important thing parents can do to build the knowledge and skills eventually required for learning to read."

I wonder what homework Jonathan has.  This thought leads me to the thought of Vivian.  I wonder what she's gonna to tonight and what my schedule is like tonight.  I know that my day is going to be busy from sun up to sun down, but it seems like she's not worried about having them around.

"The same study found that the single most effective activity for improving children's reading skills is having them read "as often, thoughtfully and broadly as possible." This is also the most important factor in vocabulary development, writing skills and conceptual growth."

I try not to yawn.  I know that this stuff is all important, but I feel like I'm sitting in school again and it's just after lunch and recess and now I'm ready to put my head down on my desk and take a nap.  I wish I was in kindergarten again so I could have nap time as a mandatory part of my day.

"According to research by the National Academy on Education published in "Becoming a Nation of Readers" by the National Commission on Reading, children who have been exposed to reading and other cultural experiences before they begin school have an overall better chance at success in formal learning."  He smiles and sighs.  "The threat of illiteracy for children who don't learn to read well is very real. Today nearly 15 percent of American adults -- more than 27 million people -- cannot read or write, and another 40 to 50 million can neither write clearly nor fully understand what they read. Children whose parents are functionally illiterate are twice as likely as their peers to be functionally illiterate."

"Mr. Camdon's class is a great example of this.  Their assignments ranged from reading books to finding words that they know in newspaper articles as well as making their own class newspaper that they edit by reading their stories aloud to the other's in their class."  Michael looks at the kids, "This year already they've read more books than any other class in their school and that includes the seventh and eighth graders who have to read a book a week for their English classes."

Pictures are taken of a plaque that is given to the class then a book is given to me and I open it up and start to read it holding the book so the kids can see the pictures.

I clear my throat and begin on the first page.  "The House Numbered 176 by Duncan Wells."  I know that Steven likes a little bit of a pause between pages so I try to keep the dramatics in the story even though I've never seen this book before.

I turn to the first page and show the picture then turn it a little back towards myself to read the tiny paragraph on the bottom of the page.  "It was late in October, the very last day the dishes from supper were all put away as the clock ticked a second to set off it's chimes the moon took it's place up above in the sky."

The lit Jack-O-Lantern knew what was in store so he smiled at the moon while he guarded the door of a house with the number one seventy six that stood on a corner where nobody lived."

I show the picture to the kids for a little. "The chill of the evening was caught by a breeze that swirled with a howl through the branches of trees but it sounded like wolves, and it sounded like cats meowing and screeching to the flapping of bats."  Strangely enough one of the kids meows and all the other kids laugh.  It takes a minute to get back on track, but one look from Mr. Camdon settles them.

"Oh the wind is a wild one, strange is it's sound from a "whoosh" to a whistle, a moan to a growl it can shutter the shutters and that's just what it did on the house with the number one seventy six that stood on a corner where nobody lived."

I take a deep breath and wish that I had some water.  My voice normally gets caught up when I speak in public and I don't want to ruin my story by having to cough on the kids.

"Now Arthur MacArthur and Marion White were out trick or treating this Halloween night walking and knocking on everyone's door for candy and apples and raisins and gourds."

A hand goes up.  "What's a gourd?"

"it's like a pumpkin, but smaller," I explain.  "My mom always gets them to put on her desk at work."

"Oh yeah," the kid says and settles back down.

I turn back to the book.  "Their bags were as big as two small pick-up trucks but they promised each other they'd fill those bags up so off the two greedies ran clickity click till they came to that house numbered 176 that stood on the corner where nobody lived."

"The wind it blew colder, and louder it howled--"  I get startled when some of the kids make sound effects of the wind then laugh a little, smile at the reporters in the back and continue, "--With the creak of the steps and the hoot of an owl that watched from a tree while the squeak of a hinge opened the door for the kids to go in."

""Hello! Can you hear us? Is anyone home?""  I pause and look around then look at the page and quickly read the rest of the sentence knowing myself that something big is about to happen and I should try to think of something to make it more dramatic.  "--But nobody answered, so they decided to go but the door shut behind them a terrible "SLAM!!""  I stomp my foot on the carpet and a thud fills the room.  ""I can't get it opened", said Arthur. "It's jammed". "We'll crawl out the window", said Marion White.  But the shutters they heard her and shut themselves tight as the lit Jack-O-Lantern blew out his light--"  I take a breath and speak the next part slowly.  "--It was darker than dark on that Halloween night
for Arthur MacArthur and Marion White."

"There were spooks in the basement banging on chairs bats in the attic and steps on the stairs then rain started pouring and lightning let flash while thunder let thund'ring a deafening "CRASH!!""  This time the kids all stomp their feet on the ground to make the crashing noise.

"The children were frightened, scared out of their wits they let out a scream but it sounded like this... Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"  Of course the class all make the noise.  "--In the dark of the house numbered 176 that stood on the corner where nobody lived."

"Suddenly “peep" went a noise in the dark then a "bump" and a "thump" like the beat of a heart a crashing and bashing like ten drummers beating then a voice, "Oh my, but you children are greedy!""

"Then their bags floated off like two helium balloons dumping their goodies all over the room but the candies were spiders, the apples were eggs the raisins were flies and they all flew away."

"That's when the door opened, the shutters did too while the lit Jack-O-Lantern, he winked at the moon--"  I wink at one of the girl's in the front row and I can hear my mom in my head telling me to stop flirting.  "--The wind took it's leave and the owl he took his from the tree by the house numbered 176 that stood on the corner where nobody lived."

"The children ran screaming as fast as their feet could carry them--"  The kids scream a little and laugh.  "--Out and along the dark streets with their hearts pounding fear they ran all the way home and promised each other they'd not tell a soul."

"Now, it was the first of November, the very next day there was frost on the grass and the sky it was grey while Arthur and Marion walked toward school they decided to check to make sure it was true that it wasn't a dream, that they saw what they saw but when they arrived the house it was gone."

"There was just an old tree with a few rotting limbs and a hole in it's trunk where a squirrel could crawl in and there was an old Jack-O-Lantern, his candle in place with a magical smile carved deep in his face."

The kids all clap when the story ends and I even see some of the reporters clapping, I'm not sure what for, considering that it was just a little story.

"What do we say class?" Mr. Camdom asks the kids.

"Thank you Justin," they all say.

"Your welcome," I say, "Thanks for making all the noises with me."

The room quickly empties.  The kids have to get back to school in time to get on their buses home so I shake Michael's hand and Mr. Camdon's hands.  "Keep me updated about their progress.  I hope that things go well for them for the rest of the year.  I know that my little brothers who are around their age don't like to read.  It's a struggle to get them to do it--"

"I just wanted to thank you for being a part of this and drawing attention to the cause," Mr. Camdon says.

"You're the real hero here," I say, "I don't know how you do it."

The information that Michael Wilson tells the reporters came from:  http://www.ala.org/pio/factsheets/kidsucceed.html

The House Numbered 176 came from: http://www.geocities.com/EnchantedForest/Cottage/5207/176.html