Reporters at the daily newspaper for kids read their articles for kids across America.
by Russell Kahn
News-O-Matic Editor in Chief
Reading aloud has always been part of the News-O-Matic DNA. Sure, there are multiple levels of text for each article in the daily editions. But it wasn’t enough to just provide the words to the stories. We built a sound studio in our midtown Manhattan newsroom, and we’ve recorded every story — at every level — ever since. We initially added this feature to support the ELL and special education students in schools across the country. But I don’t think I realized at the time how valuable it would be for all kids of all reading abilities and from all over the planet.
So when the opportunity came to promote World Read Aloud Day, we jumped in. It’s the job of any newspaper to promote the events and holidays that shape our world. That includes religious events like Christmas and Ramadan, as well as countrywide observances, such as Independence Day or Memorial Day. For us, that also includes World Read Aloud Day (WRAD).
By covering it like any other news story, it helped us promote the value of reading to our global readership of young students. As part of our coverage, I interviewed Pam Allyn, the founder of LitWorld. “I wish people would know how important reading aloud is,” she told us. The children’s book writer said that “kids feel joy” from the experience. But one critical theme to the story was to tell children that reading aloud does much more than that — that supports language development skills, listening skills, and even writing skills.
It would have been enough to report on the event of WRAD, including its origins and history. But this was too much in our wheelhouse for us not to get involved ourselves. Every reporter on the News-O-Matic team volunteered to read a couple of their stories out loud to a classroom. This ended up becoming a major thread of the article. How meta!
Writer Mathis Bauchner (a lifelong Patriots fan) read his Eagles Super Bowl preview to a class in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Author Ashley Morgan read her story about a red handfish from Tasmania (one of the rarest species on Earth) to students in Grand Forks, North Dakota. And Ryan Cramer connected with kids in Dallas, Texas, about the world’s longest underwater cave ever discovered in the warm waters of Mexico.
As the Editor-in-Chief, I decided to get a bit more personal with the story. Rather than using Skype to connect with students in another corner of America, I visited a classroom in person. I hopped on a CitiBike downtown to P.S. 19 (Asher Levy School) in New York City’s East Village. There I met with teacher Brenden Messer and his class of 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-grade students.
I read two very different articles out loud, each with a direct connection to New York City. First, I read our recently published article about the Women’s March on January 20. Though the event took place in hundreds of cities around the world, New York hosted one of the largest marches; it was impossible not to be aware of it if you were in the city that day.
We interviewed several girls for the story, and hearing their words out loud gave their message an even stronger weight.
Sarah, age 13, attended the protest in Buffalo, New York. “I marched to support every woman for our rights,” she said. “I marched to have a better future.”
“It was really inspiring,” said Parker, age 12. “All the signs showed what people felt they needed to say,” she added. “There were a ton of people, and everyone was chanting and singing,” Parker said. “It was a way to have our voices heard that we want to be treated equally.”
My second story was significant for a very different reason. As part of News-O-Matic’s ongoing series about 1968, I had been researching the life and legacy of Otis Redding. (He died in December 1967, but his song “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” would become the first posthumous #1 hit in 1968.) In fact, I had just attended a celebration of Otis Redding at the Apollo Theater. (Otis’s children performed at the concert with a collection of other incredible musicians.) My not-yet-published story was titled “Respect for Otis.”
Personally, I wanted to know if kids actually cared about the history of soul music. Of a song that was recorded more than 50 years ago. Of a voice none of them had ever even remembered hearing before. If I had ever doubted this decision, the kids reaffirmed it tenfold. And speaking to the kids in person, reading them that story, helped also to support why I do what I do, and why I work so hard.
The kids were captivated by the sound of Otis Redding. They understood his connection to New York City, as the Georgia singer had performed five times on the Apollo stage. And even if it didn’t matter, they actually enjoyed his song — though not so much my attempts to sing his opening verse out loud...
In the end, World Read Aloud Day was one of the greater experiences of our year. I hope we managed to extol the virtues of reading aloud to our growing network of educators, administrators, and students. I know it had an impact on our staff. And we’ve already got WRAD circled on our calendar for 2019.
Huge thanks to LitWorld for promoting this event. As we record 25 “Read-to-Me” files every day (including the levels of English and the translations of Spanish, and French), this is enormously important in our world as well. I’ll continue to do all I can do amplify the message of WRAD — in words and actions, and as loud as I can.