Reading opens doors to lifelong learning

Published 4:45 pm Friday, March 10, 2023

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MURFREESBORO – The inside of Riverview Elementary School’s gym was quiet as students listened with rapt attention to authors – some only a few years older than the students – read their books out loud.

The event, held on Friday, March 3, was a part of Read Across America week which aims to cultivate a love of reading and writing in young students. The Roanoke-Chowan Alumni Chapter of North Carolina A&T State University sponsored the event.

“Our goal is that these young people will be inspired to have a love for reading, and also to want to be contributors to literacy, to be authors,” explained Dr. Angie Jenkins, who serves as president of the alumni chapter.

In the past, the group has donated books to all the elementary schools in their five-county service area (Hertford, Bertie, Gates, Martin, and Chowan counties). Many members of the alumni group are educators, so promoting literacy is something that they wanted to focus on. Jenkins said they donated books which featured diverse authors and stories with characters that looked more like the students in each district.

Kim Saunders (center), a local author who participated in the Riverview reading event, meets with students afterwards. The event was sponsored by the Roanoke-Chowan Alumni Chapter of NC A&T State University. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

This year, they decided to go a step further and bring in authors themselves for face-to-face interaction with the children.

Those authors included Kim Saunders, a Hertford County native and fellow A&T alum, and the Taylor family, who run their own publishing company.

Saunders wrote “Friends Forever,” a children’s book which she said was inspired by personal experiences and years of working as a school counselor.

“Friends are something all of us struggle with from time to time,” she explained. “Everybody doesn’t have the same mindset. You can be different but at the same time, you can connect with other people that you don’t know, and you shouldn’t be afraid to meet different people.”

“We all have somebody that we can relate to and we can talk to. You just have to get out there and meet them,” she encouraged.

Saunders said getting to participate in the Read Across America event was an amazing experience and she was glad to see so many students engaged with the stories.

“I have enjoyed the energy that I have seen here today, and I hope we will continue this. The more we know, the further we go,” she concluded.

The Taylor family lives in Greenville, and has published numerous children’s books through Taylor Made Publishing.

Diane Taylor began the session with the students by explaining what a publisher does and how her job ensures that the books are put together correctly and then are printed and sold. She then introduced the rest of her family, which includes her husband, G. Todd Taylor; daughter, Morgan; and son, Garrett.

G. Todd Taylor has authored several books, including one, “Daddy’s Little Princess,” that he co-authored with Morgan.

At Friday’s event, Morgan read that book to the crowd of students. She’s in high school now, but was much younger when she helped put the story together. She explained the idea was first inspired because she never saw princesses in books and other media with brown skin like her own. Together, she and her father researched different real-life princesses of color from around the world to include in the book.

Morgan also explained to the students the whole process necessary to write a book, from the brainstorming and rough draft phase to the editing and illustration phase until it finally was published. She also urged students to continue reading.

“Reading is important because it’s in everything we do,” she said. “No matter what profession you go into, no matter what grade you’re in, you’re always going to have to read.”

Garrett, who is in middle school, also read “Dad, Who Will I Be?” during the event. Similar to his sister’s book, this one is filled with historical figures of color from around the world to deliver an encouraging, educational message to children. It was written by G. Todd Taylor with Garrett in mind as the main character.

Speaking to the students, Garrett reminded them that they can become authors at any age, especially if they take the opportunity to try.

G. Todd Taylor wrapped up the event by reading “I Don’t See Color”, which is a story about celebrating everyone’s different colors. He also then shared a bit about his background. Formerly an elementary school teacher, Taylor said he started writing because he didn’t see enough books that represented all the different kinds of students in his classroom.

“I’m from the small town of Windsor. It was books that allowed me to see other parts of the world,” he continued, adding that he has to opportunity to travel more now as an author. “If we can do that through our love of books and through reading, so can you.”

After the event, Morgan and Garrett said they both enjoyed getting to interact with the students.

“I get inspired from seeing those other kids learn more about us,” Morgan said.

G. Todd Taylor added, “even though I’m a proud Viking of Elizabeth City State University, I’m very proud of the alumni at A&T for putting this event together, because it’s important that we recognize reading and we inspire that in our young people.”

Nicole Ballance, a member of the A&T alumni group as well as a Hertford County Public Schools employee, said that she hoped the event had a strong impact on the students.

“We have some great authors here, some young authors. We wanted the students of Riverview to see young people, authors, who look like them,” Ballance said.

Riverview Principal Deborah Brown thanked the alumni chapter for sponsoring the literacy event.

“What an amazing experience our students had today,” Brown said. “Our goal here is to prepare lifelong learners, and our destination is graduation.”

The event was split into two sessions for younger grades and older grades. Following the readings, students had the opportunity to speak to the featured authors, get their books signed, and take photos together. The alumni chapter also provided music, games, and snacks before students headed back to their classrooms.