SHELDON—Free books, pizza, games and a guest appearance from football coach and children’s author Ryan Sloth ensured East Elementary’s fifth annual Literacy Night was a success.
A crowd of about 500 students and their families came to the reading-focused event on Tuesday evening, Oct. 22, in Sheldon.
“Every year, it’s gotten a little bigger than the last year, and that’s what we’re looking for is to have more community involvement, parental involvement,” said principal Jason Groendyke.
The school’s hallways and gymnasium were decorated with football jerseys and forest-like vines and trees made out of paper material. The decorations were a nod to Sloth’s football background and children’s books, many of which feature an athletic sloth character named Sammy Sloth.
The evening started for students and their families with a free pizza meal in the cafeteria. They later went to the gymnasium and picked out a free book from a table set up near the entrance where school staff were stationed.
“None of this would have been possible without their help,” Groendyke said of the school staff. “They’re always willing to go above and beyond and help with promoting the level of literacy to our students and to our families.”
After families finished eating, they went to the classrooms around the school for a breakout session where students participated in Literacy-themed activities that teachers led.
For one activity, students were given sheets of paper listing possible characters, settings and problems that were determined by dice rolls. After rolling their dice, the students then wrote a short story about their characters solving the problem in the designated setting.
In other classrooms, students created baseball cards about themselves in which they listed their favorite book, author, genre, place to read, favorite sport and interesting facts about themselves.
Students and their families returned to the gym for the last half-hour of the evening to hear Sloth speak about his books and the importance of reading.
“All I had were three channels on my TV when I was your kids’ age, so we didn’t have much entertainment,” Sloth said. “My form of entertainment was reading books.”
He explained his mother would read to him and his sister every day while they were growing up as a way to spend time as a family.
“We’d wake up, she’d read a book, at nighttime, she’d read a book. We’d pick out stories, and sit on the couch and read books,” he said.
Sloth also recalled receiving books as presents for holidays such as Christmas and Easter as well as for his birthday.
Partway through his presentation, Sloth invited students from the audience to join him at the front of the room to read and act out his book, “Hank the Bully.” The book tells the story of Hank Honey Badger who bullies other students at his school but who ends up losing his friends because of it.
He had the audience shout out “not cool!” after each instance of bullying that takes place in the book and when the characters confront Hank.
Sloth said each of his books has a message aimed at children, whether it be about bullying as in “Hank the Bully” or perseverance as in his books about Sammy Sloth.
When he visits schools and talks to kids about literature, Sloth said he also hopes to inspire them to write their own stories about experiences in their lives that could eventually be published.
“They do things all the time. They go on all kinds of trips and do fun things,” Sloth said of the kids he speaks to.
“I tell them, ‘Hey, use those and write stories about them. Take family and put them in there as characters.’”