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Murray Journal

Grant students encouraged to find fun in reading, awesomeness in peers

Mar 27, 2019 03:18PM ● By Julie Slama

Miss Murray Savannah Angle was joined by Grant Elementary students in making crowns to tie into the book, “Princess in Black” as part of the school’s literacy night. (Photo courtesy of Savannah Angle)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“Find awesomeness in other people and in yourself.”

That’s what Grant Elementary’s PTA arts and literacy coordinator Mikey Brooks said was the message from the school’s literacy night keynote speaker and author, Shelly Brown.

Brown, best known for her book “Mustaches for Maddie,” said that she wanted the students and families who were packed into the school that snowy Feb. 15 evening to reach out to the people around them.

“We live in a time when people are far too isolated, when we’d rather look at an electronic device than another person,” she said. “But we are paying a price with our happiness. I’m hoping to encourage people to check on their neighbors, make friends with the kid in class who is different, and actually talk to the people in their own families. These connections will bring happiness in ways we may never see coming.”

PTA President Brooke Stephenson said the literacy night idea was to promote the importance of reading and the fun it brings.

“It was a really fun event where Shelly made everyone feel super important and excited about reading,” she said. “She was able to relate and empower everyone.”

In Brown’s most recent book, “Squint,” Brooks said that Brown tells the tale of 13-year-old main character who is losing his eyesight, can’t see his friends well and withdraws. However, with the help of a genuine friend, the boy is able to see that different is still awesome.

“She tells how he can overcome feeling different and can look for the best, the awesomeness, which is what she empowered our students to do. Her message really left everyone pumped up,” Brooks said.

Perhaps some of that positivity came from what Brown finds as the hardest part of writing – having confidence in her own work.

“It is a subjective business and rejection is just part of it,” she said. “It is good to be humble enough to adjust your art to make it better and better, but it is also important to have some faith that what you are creating is worth your time and the time of others — the faith to believe that you are making the world a better place with your efforts. And then, the bravery it takes to show people what you made.”

After the keynote, Brown answered students who competed in the school’s Battle of the Books competition and even discussed some books they had read for the contest, since she, herself, had read the same novels, Brooks said. 

Students also could wander through several workshops, including Miss Murray Savannah Angle, who along with her mom, sister, mentor, Lisa Smith, and second attendant, Julia Cheshire, were making crowns to tie into Shannon Hale’s book, “Princess in Black.”

“She’s like a ninja with a daisy,” Angle said. “The kids all know the story and got really creative and used their imaginations when making the crowns. Who knew pipe cleaners and beads could be so magical?”

Angle volunteered to help at the elementary school however they may need it and was happy it tied into her platform to promote arts into the core curriculum.

“Arts is something that is valuable and important. It allows creativity, higher ability thinking, skills with problem-solving, skills students can use all through their life,” she said. “It makes a huge difference and allows us to connect with each other and the world around us.”

In other rotations, students could make cat ears to tie into Eric Litwin’s “Pete the Cat,” create wands to tie into the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, and make their own books so they could be their own authors. The University of Utah literacy program also held a story time and craft activity.

“If you can make reading more fun for kids, they’re more apt to pick up a book and read it for life. We wanted to make it an opportunity for kids to dive into reading,” said Brooks, who also is an author.

There were opportunities for parents to talk to teachers to discuss literacy and understand the standardized DIBELS test as well as enroll their families in the summer reading program with Murray Library.

Before families left, every student could select a free book to take home.

“It was a big win for literacy when students could pick their own book out of hundreds,” Brooks said. 

Brown, who said Jan and Stan Bernstein were her favorite childhood authors, said she reads all sorts of genres — children’s and young adult books, historical fiction, comedy, biographies, humor, romance, self-help, book club literature and more.

“Literacy nights are great opportunities to relight the love of reading and remember the power that reading has in the lives of the young and the old,” she said. “I hope that everyone who left that night went home and picked up a book, fiction, non-fiction, about space travel or sea creatures. I don’t really care. Just that they read something and expanded their minds and imaginations.”