Students at St John Vianney Catholic Primary Greenacre embraced the joy of reading with the help of authors around the globe on World Read Aloud Day.
Students from Kindergarten to Year 6 attended Skype sessions with Denis Markell, Robbie Byerly, Joanne Levy, and Katy Kelly on February 24, asking questions of the North American- based authors who have collectively written more than 60 children’s books.
Principal Phil Barrington said the day highlighted the value of reading and complemented the school’s literacy initiatives.
“Our teachers are always exploring the best ways to teach reading,” Mr Barrington said.
“At St John Vianney we are part of the world and we want to teach the children to be global citizens, so when a fun initiative came along that encapsulated this and is really teaching the students to value literacy and education, we got involved.
“We have a literacy coach and word of the fortnight, where the children are involved in competitions to use the word of the fortnight in a sentence. The children got to ask questions of the authors.
“That they can get an instant answer from the author, knowing that it’s night-time in Canada and see that they share the same values, skills and techniques is brilliant.”
Year 2 students Chris Harb and Mary Zarif-Kayrouz, both 7, enjoyed hearing Robbie Byerly speak.
Chris said he liked to read chapter books about animals including his favourite, dolphins, and takes part in the school’s word of the fortnight competitions. He last used the word plethora in a sentence.
“It means something that has a big amount,” Chris said. “The talk was good. He told us that he wrote over 50 books and we asked him if he draws his pictures sometimes on his own.”
Mary said she liked to read chapter books and ones about animals like those written by Mr Byerly.
“I could guess that he liked animals because he wrote lots of books about animals,” Mary said.
“He told us when he was a kid he loved books so he decided ‘One day when I’m big I can be an illustrator and an author’. I like to read chapters and I have this favourite book. It’s called The Scary Fairy. I read it to my younger sister.”
Assistant Principal and literacy coach Sally Coughtry said the author talks reinforced many of the schools literacy initiatives including a whole school editing process, which gives student cues through symbols on their marked work on when to fix grammar, spelling and other elements of their writing.
“At St John Vianney we are a world of readers,” Mrs Coughtry said.
“One of the authors we Skyped with was talking to the older students about the editing process. She spoke to them about how important it was to read your own work aloud so you can hear what it sounds like and not to use too many words – to use excellent vocabulary instead of a whole lot of meaningless words.”
Author Toula Papadam self-published her first children’s book Oh my! Said the fly. She read the beautifully rhymed text to students in Kindergarten to Year 2, while Years 3 to 6 learnt about the process and challenges behind writing a book.
“The children look at things really differently once they know the process you go through to come to the final product,” Ms Papadam said. “Books are something they see every day and they think nothing of it, so when they find out all of the effort that goes into making something like this they find that interesting.
“I don’t use computers at all. I show them a book that has everything I have ever written in it. I don’t erase anything, so every story I’ve ever written I can see how it started and how it evolved.”
“I let them know that even people who can write a book still need to do many drafts, so they know that a second draft and a third draft – that’s a fact of life.
“I also show the original artwork to the children and we talk about how even the illustrations need to be done and redone until we get them right. When I tell them that the artwork took Merran O’Neill two years and three months to do because she’s a teacher, not a full-time illustrator, they’re surprised.
“I think they do get value from that because the children see that it’s not an easy process.”
The book, about a smart fly and other characters who try to warn a bee every time there is a predator around as he makes his way through the Australian bush, is aimed at kindergarten and pre-school readers.
“The words make this book,” Mrs Papadam said. “Every time a character speaks there’s a little rhyming sentence, and repetition.
“After a while the children get that rhyme and they’re saying the words with you. The second time I read it to the St John Vianney students they were able to say a lot of the words with me. They were really enthusiastic and beautifully behaved. I was so impressed.”
“The older kids came up with some really good questions. They asked ‘Why did publishers reject you?’ They find it really fascinating that I would get to the point where I feel like I need to publish my own work and invest in myself. “They will also ask things like ‘How long does it take you, where do you get the ideas from, and why do you want to write for little children?’
“That’s easy to answer – writing for children is so much fun!”