A Tale of Many Readers

Free The Humphrey board at school

Washington Elementary School
Santa Barbara, California

This begins as a tale of two readers—two moms who’d started a little book club for their almost-
second grade daughters. A few more friends joined in and all were having a great time. But then, those
moms, who truly love reading, thought… wouldn’t it be great to invite more people into this special
club? They decided they wanted to invite the whole school…and thus began Washington Elementary’s
schoolwide reading program.

Those Santa Barbara moms, Megan Bright and Shannon Schroeder, both knew the power of shared reading. Bright says of her own childhood, “I became passionate about books because it’s part of what my family did. I remember my mom reading to me well past when I could read on my own … Heidi, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women. My dad would read The Narnia series or The Lord of The Rings Trilogy as my brothers and I lay on the living room floor. Reading, to me, is home.”

The moms approached their school principal and found her highly receptive to the idea. The
pair spoke of wanting to promote family literacy and strengthen the sense of community among the
Washington Elementary family. If they could get all the teachers, all the students and all the families to
read one book, they could create a rare and special bonding experience and maybe even spark a lasting
love for reading throughout the whole community. This was in May of 2019, and the two reading moms
and one intrigued principal shared the idea with their Parent Teacher Organization and Washington
teachers. Several voiced immediate interest and volunteered to help with the planning.

Bright and Schroeder lucked upon one fantastic resource in the form of a reading-promoting
organization called Read to Them. The Virginia-based non-profit specializes in supporting schools that
want a schoolwide reading experience, through its One School, One Book program. Schroeder and
Bright were fortunate again in finding that two families and some local businesses were 100% on board
with underwriting the cost of prizes and a large order of the chosen book for every child to have a
personal copy. That included a few books in Spanish for readers who aren’t as comfortable with English.

Over the summer, the planners needed to choose a book, so they read a number of them to try
to find the “just right” selection. Schroeder says The World According to Humphrey, the well-loved
story of a hamster who cared, was their winner. She says “in keeping with our emphasis on PRIDE, this
story embodies themes of friendship, empathy, responsibility, coping with change and building positive
relationships.” Washington’s principal has incorporated this concept of PRIDE for character-building, so
Betty Birney’s Humphrey was right at home with them.

Teachers crafted lessons for all grade levels and many subject areas. Some students learned
about hamster adaptations. Some drew hamster portraits. Read to Them helped with activities,
quizzes, assembly planning and more. And parents volunteered to read during recess twice each week
over the course of the 5-week campaign, which launched in October 2019.

How did it go? Schroeder says the response was phenomenal. “This has been the best part! The
feedback we are receiving from parents and teachers alike is overwhelmingly positive. Parents have said
that their kids love reading together as a family and they can’t wait to see what happens next. Teachers
have overheard the children telling their parents that they ‘have to make sure they read together
tonight!’. One parent even said that her daughter wore a shirt with a pocket on the front ‘for Humphrey
to go in’.

And a sense of community? All indications suggest they are well on their way. “…our hope is
that by creating a school-wide book club we can create a shared dialogue among our students, a
common language that can unite them across age, ethnicity, ‘cool’ status. As the program continues our
hope is that it can shift the culture of our school, creating connection and commonality.”

So there you have a hint of what’s to come. These reading moms believe that their first
schoolwide reading adventure will be just a beginning. They highly recommend this endeavor for other
schools. And their best advice for those who take on the challenge is to look for some pacing or
momentum-building activities you can do along the way…like a family pizza night. They also say it can
take as much as a year to really plan comprehensively, so they suggest you should get started early.
Bright and Schroeder have already started planning for round two, and both are very much looking
forward to an even more successful second run.

Get the Book!

The World According to Humphrey

— By Betty G. Birney