Highlands Elementary students ‘Bite into Books’

Librarian Susan Wilson held up a colorfully illustrated book about a fire-breathing dragon that eats tacos as she announced to the second grade class at Highlands Elementary School that it was time to “Bite into Books.”

“Oh my gosh, I thought you really meant we had to eat that book!” student Anderson Magno said.

Wilson, from the Community Library of Allegheny Valley in Harrison, visits the elementary school twice a month with her literary program meant to inspire a love of words in youngsters.

“We want to bring the library to school and make it important,” Wilson said.

Second grade is the perfect age, Wilson said, because they’re not quite old enough for a book club but too old for toddler story times.

“It’s so special for them because they get to eat lunch in the classroom while we read the story,” Wilson said. “That’s a real treat. We do a special craft and they get a snack, too.”

Wilson has been organizing the literacy program for 15 years.

She weaves notions of illustration, prediction and creativity into her lessons, but the students seem otherwise engaged by the fanciful story about dragons and tacos.

“They love it when the spicy sauce triggers the dragon to breathe fire,” Wilson said. “We talk about where the dragons eat their flaming hot food. It’s not Taco Bell, it’s a taco cave.”

After the story, students colored their own paper dragon with flames coming from the snout.

Student Izaiah Wright colored his flames blue, explaining to his peers that “flames are blue, fire is red.”

Classmates Khymauri Dawson and Brady Woodward dared each other to taste the salsa, provided to students by the school’s Title I Reading Teacher Christine Izydore.

Woodward didn’t hesitate and shoved the whole chip into his mouth. Dawson was a little more shy.

“I don’t want my tongue to get burning,” he said.

Izydore said the program is a highlight of the year for second graders but also for school leaders because “it promotes a love for reading that is fun.”

“Many of the kids tell us that they want to get library cards after this visit,” Izydore said.

Wilson said the school-community partnership is vital to growing strong learners.

She described the Community Library to them as a learning hub that loans out Lego building blocks, hosts spa days for pre-teens with their American Girl dolls and offers free use of computers, among other programs.

“We eat to feed our bodies but we read to feed our minds,” Wilson said.

“This partnership supports how early readers transition into a journey that fosters basic literacy and lifelong learning. Most importantly, the library has a presence in the school.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tawnya at 724-226-7726, tpanizzi@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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