Book closes on Dr. Crisp’s literary grant

NASHUA – Growing up, author Pamela Voelkel hated having to return her library books. When a child owns a book, it allows the child to take ownership of the story, she said.

Even just touching the covers, flipping through the pages and putting it on the shelf makes a book become part of a child’s life.

This is in part why she and her husband, co-author Jon Voelkel, work with the Children’s Literacy Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to inspire a love of reading and writing among low-income, at-risk, and rural children throughout New Hampshire and Vermont.

Dr. Crisp Elementary School was the 2017 recipient of CLiF’s Year of the Book: a $25,000 grant that gave each student 10 free books to take home, bought new books for both the Dr. Crisp Library and the Nashua Public Library, and arranged for several author visits throughout the school year.

“It has been the most amazing year for our children,” Principal Cherie Fulton said, adding that since the school received the grant, there has been improvement in student performance on reading and writing tests.

“There’s such a feeling of celebration every time an author visits,” she said, adding that it is “Encouraging to the children” to meet people who have made careers out of writing and sharing their love of reading.

Jon and Pamela Voelkel, authors and illustrators of the Jaguar Stones series, were the last of the visiting authors, wrapping up the Year of the Book in two assemblies Wednesday afternoon.

“We have the best jobs in the whole world,” they told the kindergarten through second-grade students.

The Jaguar Stones series takes place in a fictional world, they told the kids, but they based their fictitious country much on Belize, drawing from Jon’s experience growing up in South America. The pair have worked closely with archaeologists, traveling around the world and learning as much as possible about the ancient Maya to better help them tell their stories.

The Maya, they explained had a very “rich and fun culture” that they are trying to share, even using their website to give teacher tools to teach a unit on the Maya.

While they literally traveled to far off places for their books, Pamela Voelkel told the kids that reading “books can take you anywhere you want to go” as well.

Such as, she said, the rainforest or the jungle. She asked them to use their imaginations to feel the rain on their skin and listen for the insects. A recording of rainforest sounds began to play and Jon Voelkel pulled out two spray bottles and started misting the kids with water, eliciting shrieks and laughter.

They told students about a situation in one of their books in which a character disguises himself as a rockstar to hide from some bad guys and Jon, who is in a band, gave them all lessons in how to be a rockstar.

The most important thing, he said as he pulled out his guitar, is looking good. He was joined in the front of the gym by several volunteers playing inflatable guitars, one of whom stopped him in the middle of a song to ask for a guitar pick.

Pamela and Jon Voelkel used the assembly to show the students some of the fun times that can come from reading. They urged students to go to the library and “have the best, most exciting summer of reading.”

Thanks to the Year of the Book, over 100 new Nashua Public Library cards were issued to students this year, with more than 80 percent of parents and students pledged to read more at home, said Danno Hynes, the library media specialist.

“I love how excited the kids get – it’s a joy to see,” Jon Voelkel said after the gym emptied out. “CLiF does such a good job of getting books into these children’s hands.”

The Year of the Book also offers a support network for the schools after the grant ends to help students keep the momentum going.

“The Year of the Book grant creates added spark for our ongoing efforts in literacy this year,” Fulton said when the grant was announced. “The grant will allow us to be more rigorous and more inventive in our teaching and learning.”

And, as Pamela Voelkel asked the students Wednesday, “There’s nothing quite like owning your own book, is there?”

For some of the students at Dr. Crisp, some of whom did not have books in their homes before this year, they now get that feeling tenfold.

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.