Author brings joy of reading into the classroom 

Education Foundation supports student event


by Anna Derosa

Amherst Bee Associate Editor

    Through the program #KidsNeedMentors, Christine Dauksha’s fourth-grade class at Maple West Elementary was able to pair with author Lela Nargi for the 2018-19 school year. 

    Nargi is an author, editor and journalist,  who started writing books in 1996 and published her first children’s book, “The Honeybee Man,” in 2011.

    With the goal of getting children excited about reading and writing, #KidsNeedMentors hopes to break down the barriers that exist between educators and children’s book creators, and between children’s book creators and their audience. 

    The program was launched in May by authors Ann Braden and Jarrett Lerner, and fifth-grade teachers Kristin Crouch and Kristen Picone. 

    “The idea of this was establishing a connection between an author and group of students that would last the entire year,” said Bobbi Hopkins, Williamsville Central  School District technology integrator.  

    After discovering the hashtag on Twitter, Hopkins was one of 300 educators who was selected for the program. A former classroom teacher of 28 years, she then presented the opportunity to Dauksha’s fourth-grade class. 

    “To me it was such a great idea and it was so wonderful that there were so many authors that were really eager to jump in on this and have that opportunity to connect with students and help them understand writing and the process of writing,” Hopkins said.  

    The author wanted to participate in #KidsNeedMentors because she had released  new books   and loves trying them out with kids.

    “It’s always great to read the books to kids to get their reaction and to make it sort of a real live thing, because even though it’s a physical object out in the world, it’s still living in your head,” Nargi said. 

    “And getting to engage with kids about the work you’ve done gives it a new life and the life that you only imagine when you don’t get to talk to kids about what their experience reading is.”

    Dauksha’s students have read numerous books written by Nargi, including “Absolute Expert: Volcanoes” and “Absolute Expert: Dinosaurs,” which were published by 

    National Geographic Kids, and  “A Heart Just Like My Mother’s,” published by Kar-Ben/Lerner and illustrated by Valeria Cis. 

    Students also  received a proof copy of Nargi’s newest picture book, “Karl’s New Beak.” The book will be released in March from Capstone.

    While a  one-time author visit can be a fleeting experience,   the #KidsNeedMentors program develops a  series of  interactions.  Nargi believes that authors and children crave that interaction.

    “Having somebody come into your life for such a short period of time sort of mythologies it,  which is sort of the opposite of what you want,” Nargi said. “As a writer, you want kids to think of writers as ordinary people who do this thing.

    “It’s not like being a movie star — it’s work and work that we love. And I think part of an author’s job is communicating sort of the normalcy of that and who we are.” 

    Nargi’s visit was also connected to the school’s  annual event called Prime Time Reading. At the event, Nargi read “The Honeybee Man” to a group of around 70 fourth-graders.

    “The Honeybee Man,” published by Schwartz & Wade and illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker, is about an urban beekeeper and includes facts about beekeeping, bees and pollinators,  and how honey is extracted. 

    According to Dauksha,    the author visit gained support from  former Maple West principal Charlie Galluzzo and the  Parent Teacher Association. Dauksha also  received  a $500 grant from the Williamsville Education Foundation Inc. 

    Dauksha has already witnessed many benefits of the mentorship with the 25 students in her class. 

    Her  class has participated  in Google Hangouts and will be able to connect with Nargi throughout the school year. The students have written several pieces of their own and were able to talk with    Nargi about adding dialogue to text and the editing process.

    “The idea of being able to ask the author questions about her book and get that immediate feedback has been amazing for my students,” Dauksha said. 

    When her students approach writing a new story, they can receive tips from their  mentor author. 

    “Having her texts as mentor texts that we can look back at and also just having her as a resource to talk to and answer their  questions is just so gratifying to the students,” Dauksha said, adding that it has motivated her students to implement what they’ve learned.

     Nargi wants children to feel a joy for reading and writing. A student who was new to Dauksha’s  class  hadn’t  read one of Nargi’s books that the other students had. 

    The student approached Nargi and   told her that they were excited to read it. 

    “It is so gratifying when a kid is happy to get a book and thinks that’s a really great thing,” Nargi said.