About 1,200 students from every elementary and middle school in Columbia gathered on at MU on Tuesday for the annual Columbia Reading Club Day as a reward for taking part in their school’s extracurricular reading programs.
Students who completed the program’s requirements spent the day listening to speeches by a group of authors and storytellers rather than sitting in their usual classrooms. To earn the reward, students typically read at least 10 books, said Gentry Middle School media specialist Susan Nichols.
Tuesday’s event produced the largest turnout in the 11-year history of the program, said Cathie Leesing, a media specialist at Paxton Keeley Elementary School and the event’s organizer. Leesing said most of the students at the event were fifth- and sixth-graders, although a few fourth-graders were present.
This year’s speakers were authors Patricia Pfitsch and Jonathon Fuqua and storytellers Tracy Milsap and Chris O’Gorman. Both Pfitsch and Fuqua were nominated for the Mark Twain Award, which is given by the Missouri Association of School Librarians to honor the year’s best children’s books.
At Jesse Auditorium, Milsap gave a lively presentation that combined song, audience participation and a message that emphasized the importance of reading.
“We had to learn our numbers and our letters,” she said, telling the audience about her childhood. “More than that, we had to know how to string them all together for reading, writing or arithmetic.”
Milsap, who has spoken at the Reading Club Day for the last four years, said she first agreed to speak at the event to promote literacy for both children and adults.
“I just couldn’t say no,” she said.
In his speech at Conservation Auditorium, Fuqua explained how his experiences shaped the stories he would write as an adult.
He said that as a child, he was intimidated by books, so he wants children to realize that “books are not meant to be put in a glass case in a museum,” he said. “They are loud, raucous and can be exciting.”
Meg Connell, a Grant Elementary School fifth-grader, said she was happy to be outside for a day.
“It gave me a chance to get out, learn and walk around,” she said.
Fellow Grant fifth-grader Valentina Goldraij gave a more practical reason for enjoying the trip.
“I didn’t have to do school work,” she said.
Nichols said she hoped the day would inspire some of the students. She said: “Any of the students in this audience could become a future author or storyteller.”