January 17, 2018

Read Across America holds promise of books for 15 local unions

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Caption: As a child, NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango's favorite book was 'Corduroy' by Don Freeman. This year, NYSUT local unions can earn grants to purchase books for students by hosting a community outreach literacy event for the NEA's Read Across America initiative. Photo by Andrew Watson.

“Everyone is a reader... some just haven’t found their favorite book yet.” — Unknown

It is time to talk books.

It is time to remember the magic of turning pages to turn to new worlds, or to better understand our own. Learning to read at a young age paves the way for a lifetime of adventure and knowledge. Reading is when quiet time for the body makes possible lively time for the imagination.

It is time to get ready for Read Across America, a national program to encourage reading. This year, 15 of NYSUT’s local unions can earn grants to purchase books by hosting a community outreach literacy event celebrating this year’s theme, “A Nation of Diverse Readers.” The deadline to fill out a one-page application about a proposed event is January 26. Events are to be held on Friday, March 2, the official day of Read Across America.

Poet and children's book author Kwame Alexander, who was featured on the cover NYSUT United after a school visit to Castleton Elementary School in June 2015, has been named Read Across America ambassador for 2018. He won the Newberry Medal for his book Crossover.

J. Phillipe Abraham, NYSUT first vice president, recalls a favorite childhood book: Ti Malice au pays de lettres, (In the Land of Letters) by Jacqueline Turian Cardozo, based on Haitian folklore about Ti Malice, a trickster character who is the nemesis of Ton Ton Bouqui and Uncle Bouki, a clever gentleman. Cardozo’s biography said her book was the first in Haiti to teach literacy to young children.

ti malice

“New York is the most diverse state in the nation, and we are proud to be supporting the 20th anniversary of NEA's Read Across America/ Read Across New York," said Abraham. “Celebrating our many stories, cultures and backgrounds allows diverse populations the opportunity to see themselves in literature, while teaching others to be empathetic and compassionate to those with differences.”

Abraham recalled other important books from his childhood in Haiti, including a collection of fables from Jean de La Fontaine, which were culled from both Western and Eastern stories and adapted into French free verse. They were collected into several volumes from 1668 to 1694 under a general title, "Fables," now considered classics of French literature. Although originally intended for adults, they became required school learning for children with their humorous, nuanced and ironical prose.

As an affiliate of National Education Association, NYSUT won a Read Across America event grant with a maximum of $20,000. The money will be used for15 local unions to help them provide access to diverse books for students and families in low-income, Title I eligible communities. Each local will receive $1,000 to spend on existing First Book accounts, choosing from 1,381 diverse titles listed for the “Stories For All Project.” A few locals will also be provided with an extra $300 in materials to add fun to their community outreach celebrations. Goody bags will also be provided.

When asked what his favorite childhood book was, NYSUT President Andy Pallotta didn’t hesitate: The Little Engine That Could, written by Watty Piper, a pen name of publisher Arnold Munk. Pallotta calls it “the real story of encouragement.” His mom read him the book.

little engine

In a 2007 NEA online poll, Pallotta’s favorite was listed in the Teachers Top 100 Books for Children.

As an elementary teacher in the Bronx, Pallotta read books to his young students. The favorite book that he read to his own children was Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch, which follows a parent loving and caring for a child, and then the grown-up child caring for the elder parent. He confesses that the book, illustrated by Sheila McGraw, can still choke him up.

For current reading, he named On Tyranny, a book given out by the American Federation of Teachers that depicts how fascism can destroy institutions so they can be taken over.

That same book is also being read by NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. As a child, her favorite book as a child was Corduroy, a 1968 book written and illustrated by Don Freeman. The bear, Corduroy, wants someone to buy him and, since he’s missing a button, he wreaks a little havoc in the department store trying to find one. A girl buys him even without the button. “I wanted to do what he did in the book when I was a child, but kept that my little secret,” DiBrango confessed.


What about a favorite book for learning about a different culture? DiBrango said that would be A Thousand Splendid Suns, a story about two women in Afghan written by Khaled Hosseini.

“It was so moving. It stayed with me for weeks and months afterward,” she recalled.

The childhood book that has stayed with NYSUT Second Vice President Paul Pecorale is Pierre (A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and Prologue) by Maurice Sendak. Pierre is a rather lively and precocious young lad who has a lot to learn with his “I don’t care” attitude when he meets up with a hungry lion.


Pecorale said his favorite book to read to his children was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, about a tree that loves a boy.

Currently, he’s reading the biography of Bruce Springsteen.

To share the wealth of reading with students, local unions can submit a one-page description of the event and a cover sheet signed by a local president. Information on the cover sheet should include affiliate name, local president name, phone number and email, primary contact for the Read Across America event planned for March, and the local president’s signature along with name of NYSUT regional office and name of labor relations specialist. Send to Paul Webster at pwebster@nysutmail.org.

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