BY Molly Congdon
There is a nightmare that haunts us all during childhood: showing up to school in our pajamas, completely humiliated as everyone — dressed regularly — points and laughs.
For the kindergarten, first- and second-grade students of Tesago Elementary School, that frightening reverie turned into a reality on Feb. 10, but instead of standing alone in embarrassment, they all marched into the cafeteria as one, bunny slippers and all.
It was the annual PJ Story Night, the first event of the year to celebrate Parents as Reading Partners, a New York State PTA program that asks parents to read with their children for at least 15 minutes a day, stressing that reading can be fun and educational.
“It’s a statewide PTA event, but it is left up to the individual schools to decide what they want to do,” PTA President Jen Leonard said. “They give out awards to recognize certain schools for their creative ideas. This year we are submitting our PJ Night for consideration.”
The Book Wars for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders will occur at the end of March, and then the program comes to a conclusion with the Family Library Night. Every class in the school picks a book and decorates the classroom window with the theme of the book, then families come through and have to guess what classroom goes with which book. “It’s really fun and it motivates kids who haven’t read the book to read it once they see the windows,” Leonard said. “That same night we also do a book sale, selling each one for only a quarter.”
At any age, a book — composed merely of paper and ink — can transport us to other parts of the world, magical lands and even back in time. They serve as doors to realms such as J.K. Rowling’s wizard-filled world of Hogwarts, Roald Dahl’s drool-worthy chocolate factory headed by the eccentric Willy Wonka and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
It was a slumber party of massive proportions — minus the sleeping aspect, of course.
The cafeteria was a sea of flannel. The tan tile floor was checkered with an assortment of colors and shapes. Pink blankets spotted with images, nail polish, high heels and cheetah purses. Puffy comforters full of Disney princesses, Ninja Turtles and the little yellow minions from “Despicable Me.” Thin strips of neon sleeping bags with children scrunched up inside speckled in-between. Stuffed animals including Minnie Mouse and a variety of colorful teddy bears didn’t stray far from their owners, and miniature UGG boots patiently waited to be worn once more.
Kids, clad in footie pajamas that featured polka dots, spaceships, sports balls and cupcakes, cuddled up under the blankets with popcorn. Some came prepared with Thermoses, chocolaty Yoo-hoo or crispy bags of Munchies.
“The goal is to celebrate reading,” Leonard said, “The kids who read and read often tend to do so much better in school and we like to promote and encourage that at a young age.”
Cheers erupted from the crowd as Grama Tippy Toes (Diane Payette) kicked off the evening by playing her guitar and singing an interactive warm-up song that involved the clapping of hands and the stamping of feet. The next tune was The Carpenters “Sing,” and kids belted out the la la las. It wasn’t long before the Wide Mouth Frog, Payette’s beloved hand puppet, made an appearance and narrated a tale that took the children on a wandering trail through the jungle. “I’m a wide mouth frog and I eat flies.” On his journey, Wide Mouth Frog met many different animals and discovered what they ate. Everything was fine . . . that is, until he met a loris who liked to eat wide mouth frogs.
After the frog splashed away into the water, Grama Tippy Toes pulled out Keith Faulkner’s “The Hiccuping Hippo.” As you know, there are many strategies that people use to get rid of these minor body malfunctions. She needed a volunteer and the perfect person to pick on was Principal Gregory Pace, the only man wearing a tie.
He was the hippo who wanted his hiccups to go away. He sang “Happy Birthday” standing backward, held his breath, smelled dill seed, but the hiccups remained. It wasn’t until the whole room scared them out of him by shouting, “Boo!” that they finally subsided.
Red curtains were drawn back to reveal a large projector screen that hovered over the wooden stage, which made the pages of each book being read visible to the students. A group of teachers read aloud as well as acted out parts to Candace Fleming’s picture book “Oh, No!” Each teacher took on the persona of an animal — most of which fall in a hole — within the story and, true to their roles, they performed their lines with different voices, noises and entertaining movements, including one authoritative sneeze AHH CHOO! As the plot unraveled, the kids enthusiastically completed their duty by shouting (with some added giggling) out the refrain: “Oh, no!”
The next selection, “Little Pea,” was a humorous twist on an old admonishment that generations have had to endure: “You have to finish your dinner before you can have dessert.” The pea cannot wait to consume his favorite treat, spinach, but first he must swallow each piece of candy in the main course. If only reality could be this sweet.
Soon a contagious yawn ran through the temporary campers, but there was still one more reading with Principal Pace — who had been mercilessly picked on all night and was commonly referred to as “the man with the tie” — as the sole orator.
He began to read “The Book Without Pictures.” (He had no idea what he was in for.) This particular book forces the one reading it to say an assortment of ridiculous words and phrases:
“I am a robot monkey.”
“My hat is made of a blueberry pizza.”
He made every sound in the book, and that’s saying something … well a lot of somethings! The most laughter came after he uttered the phrase: “BOO BOO BUTT.” Come on, can you blame them?
Glancing around the room, one could only see smiles, laughter and pure enjoyment.
Maybe education doesn’t have to be a bore. Maybe reading, perhaps, provides a little bit more.