Connecticut Education Foundation brings the joy of reading and free books to thousands of first- and second-grade students in Bridgeport
The Connecticut Education Foundation (CEF) kicked off the biggest literacy event in the state, providing a virtual read-aloud puppet show with book character puppets reading The Someone New, by Jill Twiss. The puppet show was streamed into 170 first-and second-grade classrooms in Bridgeport to help students discover the joys of reading on Read Across Connecticut Day. This unique program instills a love of reading in children and tells the story of diversity, kindness, and inclusion through the eyes of puppet characters.
More than 3,200 first-and second-grade students in 29 schools in Bridgeport, one of the state’s neediest districts, enjoyed the program and were given the opportunity to select a new, free book of their choice to take home, along with bookmarks, reading certificates, word searches, and a flyer for parents with tips on engaging children in reading at home. The materials are also online and available to educators across the state at cea.org/read-across-connecticut.
CEF, the nonprofit arm of the Connecticut Education Association, sponsored the event with partners iHeartRadio, Dalio Philanthropies, and the National Education Association. Jill Twiss’s publisher, HarperCollins, donated 100 copies of The Someone New so that all Bridgeport first- and second-grade classroom libraries have a copy. Abrahams Books donated 500 copies of Our Little Kitchen, by Jillian Tamaki, and Mercer Mayer donated 200 copies of his books. The generosity of the partners and book donations ensured that every student received a book to take home.
“This year, the pandemic forced us to think outside the box to bring the fun and excitement of reading to children,” said CEF President and CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas. “While Bridgeport students were today’s audience and the recipients of free books, the beauty of this program is that it is available to students in every school district across the state. Educators, students, and parents can access our free online resources anytime, witness the magic of a story read by puppets, watch a Q&A session with author Jill Twiss, and download some great literacy activities and resources.”
Nicholas added, “Reading is essential for student success, but too many children don’t have their own books to read, and often students of color don’t see themselves depicted in books, so our program provided a variety of books featuring Black and brown characters that Bridgeport first- and second-graders could select and bring home.”
- The Name Jar, by Yangsook Choi
- Frog and Toad Are Friends, by Arnold Lobel
- Mrs. Katz and Tush, by Patricia Polacco
- Yasmine the Friend, by Saadia Faruqi
- EllRay Jakes Stands Tall, by Sally Warner
- Keena Ford and the Second-Grade Mix-Up, by Melissa Thomson
- Tacky the Penguin, by Lynn Munsinger
“We appreciate CEF for recognizing the great need in Bridgeport schools and coming through with this virtual celebration of diversity and reading,” said Bridgeport Education Association President and bilingual teacher Ana Batista. “Many of our students don’t have a lot of their own books and don’t see themselves in the books they have, so these free books featuring diverse characters, and often children of color, are a wonderful way of helping students connect with stories and enhance their reading skills.”
The Read Across Connecticut virtual puppet program is part of the national Read Across America Day, a yearly initiative from the National Education Association, designed to motivate children to read and bring the joy of reading to students of all ages. The event is held the week of March 2, to celebrate the birthday of beloved children’s author Theodor Geisel, commonly known as Dr. Seuss.
CEF worked with graduates of the University of Connecticut Puppet Arts Program and Wonderspark Puppets to bring the characters in The Someone New to life in a video read-aloud and Q&A with puppets and the book’s author discussing the importance of differences, inclusivity, and friendship.
“We are grateful to Jill Twiss for participating in this project and working with us to provide a valuable tool that teaches about diversity and reinforces an appreciation of reading that children will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” said Nicholas.
“I am so thrilled for The Someone New to be part of Read Across Connecticut Day,” said author Jill Twiss. “I loved hearing books read aloud as a kid, and it means so much to me to have my own book involved in this project.”
Research shows that reading is an important factor in student achievement, and creating successful lifelong readers is critical for future success. Children who spend more time reading do better in school, and for that reason and so many others there is no more important gift than literacy.
“CEF is proud to work with our passionate, caring, and dedicated teachers across the state to promote the importance of reading. This year we are excited to have the support of community sponsor iHeartRadio, NEA, and the Dalio Philanthropies,” added Nicholas.