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Just Read! Festivals Connect Children With Local Heroes

Home > Learn More > Stories & News > Just Read! Festivals Connect Children With Local Heroes
By ChildFund U.S. Program
Posted on 9/28/2015
meeting heroes  

When you think about people who typically promote reading, librarians, preschool and elementary school teachers come to mind. But you probably wouldn’t include meteorologists, police officers, firefighters and soldiers in that group, and certainly not rescue dogs or emergency robots.

But ChildFund’s Just Read! program has drawn together a diverse group of people who have been doing just that — promoting the love of books — in reading festivals held throughout communities in Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Mississippi. By focusing on monthly themes, we continually engage community involvement and support innovative ways to encourage reading. During the month of July, the theme was “My Hero,” which involved more than 100 volunteers, representing 48 different community groups, to celebrate reading. 

Children got to meet their heroes, who not only shared stories about the work they do, but they also encouraged children to keep reading and even gave them books about people in their lines of work. Firefighters brought their fire truck, the police brought a squad car and a Marine fan boat, and emergency services brought their ambulance and their search and rescue dogs. Safety Sam, a robot that looks like an ambulance, spoke to the children about emergency preparedness.

The Air Force was even represented. Two brothers, Alex and Bobby, were so excited to meet a real-life hero that as soon as Sgt. Gilbert from the Air Force walked in the door, the boys ran to meet and visit with him. “I didn’t know that I was going to be quizzed,” said Sgt. Gilbert. “I think those boys knew more about the Air Force than I did!”

These local heroes also participated in reading enrichment games and activities with the kids, from Hero Bingo and Hero Memory to Hero Pictionary. Each of the children created their own “Hero Passport” and had heroes sign their passports, including the rescue dog, who autographed with his paws. 

Some children created their own hero comic books that they then took home to read to their parents. Children also wrote thank-you letters to men and women serving in the armed forces, and the letters were mailed to a unit overseas.

kids cheering  

An important piece of any Just Read! festival is the chance for children to express their thoughts, opinions, hopes and concerns as they relate to the festival’s theme. Just Ask Them! surveys asked children, “Who is your personal hero?” About half said Mom or Dad. Other answers included friends, fictional superheroes, TV or movie characters, Jesus, pets and military personnel, and some even said, “I am my own hero.”

The top answer to the question “What character traits do heroes possess?” was “good, strong leader.” But when children were asked what they would do if they could do something heroic, 60 percent said they would give up something to help other people.

Maybe the children were taking a cue from the adults who stepped up to help run the festivals. One of the volunteers had such a great experience that she has arranged to get time off from work to come out and help at other reading festivals. And a representative from a medical center went to the local bookstore and bought children’s books related to medical heroes or the medical field and donated them to the program. The kids loved these books!

Just Read! is not just about reading. It is also about building local heroes, young and old.