By Mark Engebretson
With schools closed and libraries shuttered due to COVID-19, children find themselves sequestered at home — many without enough books or activities to appease their curiosity.
Enter Lisa Von Drasek, the energetic curator of the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Literature Research Collections.
Von Drasek has created a social media campaign called #OperationReadAloud as a way to pull together children’s book authors, illustrators, and advocates to record themselves reading books aloud and delivering workshops in writing and drawing.
The content, aggregated on the #OperationReadAloud Facebook Group, focuses on children and young adults. As of March 27, the Group, open to anyone, has 580 members.
Read alouds reaching children around the world
“It’s all over the world — people are checking in from New Zealand — and it’s really fabulous,” Von Drasek said. “There’s also amazing gratitude from the people who are locked down in Italy, which is how this all started.”
In February, Von Drasek served as a judge in Bologna, Italy for the 2020 Bolognaragazzi, an awards program for best picture books of the year. After Von Drasek returned home, she stayed in contact with her friends in Italy. In early March, she came up with the idea to recruit people to record themselves reading aloud for children in Italy.
“I thought, ‘I know a lot of children’s books people. I bet they would love to read aloud from a book.’”
Soon, of course, in the United States the coronavirus surfaced and started spreading. So the next step was creating the #OperationReadAloud Facebook group as a way to aggregate and share reading in the United States and around the world.
Along the way, many publishers agreed to loosen copyright restrictions to allow their authors to share readings on YouTube, Facebook, and other platforms. “The generosity of the publishers has been amazing,” Von Drasek said.
As of March 27, there are nearly 60 videos posted and they range from readings and workshops to “art-alouds.”
Stemple, DiCamillo, and Grimes are contributors
Heidi E.Y. Stemple, Kate DiCamillo, and Nikki Grimes are just a few of the contributors.
“I wanted to do something special for the kids who are out there doing school and wanted some extra activities,” Stemple said in one of her videos, adding that she was going to read from her book, Counting Birds, with the permission of her publisher, Quarto Books.
DiCamillo is focusing on writing tips for budding authors. She noted that the first thing she did that particular morning was what she does every morning: write two pages.
“So, what I’m going to ask y’all to do — if you are interested in writing a story — is to think: ‘what kind of routine can I get into where I can make a commitment to write a certain amount of pages each day for a story.’”
To get started, DiCamillo recommended that authors pretend that they are writing a letter to someone. “So, just write the letter. And then we’re going to meet back here later on and I’ll give you another tip.”
Grimes recently read from her book of poems, Between the Lines, which includes one of her favorite characters, Marcel Dickson. In “Sweep,” Dickson’s father was arrested on trumped-up drug charges.
“Either way his arrest was hardly what you’d call a waste. After all, it did help one cop make his quota for the night,” Grimes read in Dickson’s voice.
“Hard stuff from a boy with a hard life,” Grimes said, after the reading. “But, when you read the book, you’ll find out he ends up in a good place.”
Videos added daily
The number of followers and contributors #OperationReadAloud is growing daily and Von Drasek has been busy keeping on top of things and adding new read-aloud recordings.
“I think it was Mr. Rogers who said ‘Look to the people who are helpers,’” Von Drasek said. “And librarians and teachers are helping.”
If you’d like to add a video to the #OperationReadAloud Facebook group, please contact Von Drasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.
Von Drasek talks about #OperationReadAloud
About Lisa Von Drasek
About Read This Book!
Read This Book! is a video podcast produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries. It is available on YouTube and iTunes. Audio from Read This Book! is available on iTunes at Von Drasek’s The Blue Ox Review podcast.
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