Students rock their way to reading at a new level

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Derrick Sahr's nose is immersed in a book.

"Read my lips: do not disturb," is the warning his body language conveys.

Hanna Middlebrook sits primly nearby, posture erect, eyes on the pages of a book in her lap.

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Nicole Shatek is wrapped beneath an afghan. She pauses to look up as if contemplating a passage she had just read before returning her gaze to a book.

In between, the girls sits Miles Edwards, who has the biggest book of anyone: A paperback version of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings -- The Fellowship of the Ring." Unfortunately, the book remains closed and the youth seems more interested in the flickering embers of a fire and the attention an interviewer is about to give him.

It's Monday at Ellis Middle School and inside the school's IMC, students are rocking and reading. Literally.

Five rocking chairs circle a rug. One chair -- Shatek sits there -- has an afghan coverlet. The sound of logs crackling on a fire causes a visitor to sniff the air for the scent of a wood fire only to realize its a television image.

Fooled again into believing something exists that isn't there. Just like reading a book. Non-fiction, to be sure.

If the annual Read Across America promotion is as much fun in other schools fun as this, who wouldn't want to read?

Marilyn Oswald, media specialist at Ellis Middle School, put together the package for the fifth annual Read Across America event. Rocking chairs, coffee tables, baskets of books, soft rugs and slippers created a "home-like atmosphere in the school library.

Teacher Kathy Huffman coordinated the events once again this year. Read Across America is a creation of the National Education Association and designed to encourage adults to take a more active role in encouraging reading.

"We can't attract students this age to the old 'Green Eggs and Ham' reading material of Dr. Seuss, so we came up with 'Rock-n-Read' activities," Huffman said. "We challenge our middle school kids to keep reading while they keep their chairs rocking."

Huffman said any effort to improve the reading habits of students in grades sixth, seventh and eighth grades is worth it.

"For one thing, it keeps their interest alive in reading later on in life to do something fun like this," she said. "Secondly, it shows how they can fit in something that can be worthwhile and fun in their busy lives."

Huffman practices what she preaches in the classroom.

"The whole idea is that more adults need to be involved in reading with their children," she said. "Kids need to see adults reading. I read aloud to my classes each day."

At home, Huffman just finished reading "Eye of the Great Bear," one of 10 books nominated for a Maude Hart Loveless award this year.

Reading 'n rocking

So, what were EMS students reading Monday?

Middlebrook, a sixth grader, chose "Homeless Bird," the story of a 13-year-old girl, who is matched for marriage in her native India only to see her husband die two days after the wedding.

"I enjoy reading for pleasure," she said. "Mysteries are my favorite. Books like the Harry Potter series. I read every night."

Shatek, also a sixth grader, reads "when I get bored." Shatek has read the Harry Potter series twice and was reading one of the books again Monday.

Sahr, a seventh grader, needs no encouragement to read.

"I read at home every day for 20 minutes," he said. He prefers adventure books.

His mother also reads regularly, according to the seventh grader. "It's something to do when I have nothing else to do and I like the stories they tell," he said.

Miles Edwards, a sixth grader, said his mother and father both read. Does he?

"I try to," he said. "We're supposed to read 20 minutes a day."

The fat "Lord of the Rings" paperback Edwards held did look dog-eared suggesting someone had perused its pages.

A fireplace video, rocking chairs, Afghans, slippers, rugs and rocking chairs all came with a purpose born of necessity, according to Huffman.

"The middle school years are the ones that decide whether or not the kids will become life-long readers," she said.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at