COLUMBIA — Twenty blankets topped by cross-legged preschoolers in pajamas filled the front lawn of Field School on Thursday morning.
Volunteers, local celebrities and others were reading "Llama Llama Red Pajama," by Anna Dewdney, to the more than 200 children sitting in clusters under the trees.
They were participating in Read for the Record, an annual worldwide campaign to spotlight the early education gap.
More than 2 million people around the world pledged to simultaneously read the book Thursday in hopes of beating the record for largest-shared reading experience.
Last year, the combined reading groups set a record with 2,057,513 children listening to "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats.
Thursday's readers at Field School included two MU athletes, two State Farm Insurance agents, Miss Missouri Sydney Friar and other community members.
Helping with the program were tutors from Jumpstart, an AmeriCorps program designed to help children from low-income neighborhoods develop writing and reading skills. College students and community core members work through Jumpstart at more than 100,000 preschools nationwide.
Field School's preschoolers were joined by classes from the United Cerebral Palsy Heartland Child Development Center and the Mary Lee Johnston Community Learning Center, said Roshani Mahadevan, Jumpstart volunteer coordinator.
Readers engaged the preschoolers by performing the voices of the characters, asking questions about the pictures in the book and pointing out connections with the story.
When Mahadevan read to her group of students, she noted that the main character was wearing pajamas.
"Just like you guys," she said to the enthralled group clad in a mix of Disney princess, Thomas the Tank Engine and Justin Bieber pajamas.
Dewdney's picture book tells the story of Baby Llama, who is put to bed by Mama Llama, but doesn't want to be left alone. After finally getting his mother to come back upstairs, the little llama learns that "Mama Llama's always near, even if she's not right here."
A few blankets down from Mahadevan, Andrea Luntsford read the book to her group. Luntsford is a detective for the Boone County Sheriff's Department and got involved with Read for the Record through work connections.
“Some of these kids are disadvantaged," Luntsford said. "They may not get the same contact at home. That one-on-one time at home is important to building vocabulary and to building imagination.”
Jumpstart programs work in 15 preschool classrooms in Columbia, including Title I preschools, Nora Stewart Early Learning Center and Mary Lee Johnston, said site manager Martina Hoyt.
Preschoolers who were unable to travel to Field School still heard the story in their own classrooms, pajamas and all.
Mahadevan said Jumpstart also offers the book through an online reader so those not at a specific Read for the Record event can still take part.
“I think that’s what’s important," Mahadevan said. "Making sure people realize that, hey, we’re doing this for the children. We’re standing up for them, and we’re doing this all over the country today.”