The Little Read
Clifford entertains children at The Little Read. COURTESY MONTCLAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY

*See schedule of public events at bottom of article.
The Little Read
Oct. 16-20, various locations around town.
Community birthday party on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 4:30 p.m. Cupcakes will be served.
For more information, visit montclairlibrary.org

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Something special happens when adults climb onto the Big Red Chair to read a children’s book in The Little Read.

With their feet not reaching the floor, with extra space on either side of them, the adults feel like children again.

It’s an odd feeling, said Montclair’s Frank Hentschker, who designed and built the chair for the first Little Read in 2009.

“It’s exciting and confusing,” Hentschker said. “You’re mixed up. As you’re reading to others, you feel like a child, and contribute to their childhood memories.”

This year The Little Read celebrates its 10th anniversary from Oct. 16-20. About 100 people will read their favorite books to children in different locations around town. The Montclair Public Library main branch will hold a birthday party on Wednesday, Oct. 17, and MPL director Peter Coyl and Mayor Robert Jackson will be readers for the library’s popular bedtime stories event Friday, Oct. 19. About 800 children are expected to participate.

Other locations include The Wally Choice Community Center, 115 Bloomfield Ave., the Montclair Art Museum, 3 South Mountain Ave, and, new this year, Cornerstone Montclair, 189 Bellevue Ave. Cornerstone will host an inclusive community read for children of all abilities. The expansion to five days allows more children to be involved, Coyl said.

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Children from local pre-schools and Kindergarten classes have been invited to The Little Read at the Main Library and at the Bellevue Avenue Branch.

Over the years, The Little Read has had some celebrity readers, too: Stephen Colbert has read, and this year, Mikie Sherrill, the Democratic nominee for the 11th Congressional District this year, is scheduled to read. In an email, Sherrill said that the library is an integral part of the community.

The Little Read was a project of the Montclair Public Library Foundation, and has been sponsored by Scholastic since it began.

Montclair resident Judy Newman, Scholastic president and self-described “reader-in-chief” of Scholastic Book Clubs, the mail-order catalogues children receive in school, was formerly

The Little Read
JUDY NEWMAN

on used the library board.

For Newman, the partnership between the library and Scholastic is a natural one.

“We look for every opportunity to help communities spread the joy and fun and excitement of reading to kids. When we see that kind of enthusiasm we want to be there,” Newman said.

She said that the program began as a kids’ version of the NEA “Big Read.” That program gives community grants centered around a single selection, chosen by the NEA.

This year, Scholastic will send Lucille Colandro, author of the bestselling “There Was an Old Lady” series, to Montclair. Scholastic also donates books so every child can leave with one. To Newman’s knowledge, The Little Read is unique to Montclair.

Both Big Read and The Little Read involve the joy of reading a good book, with everyone participating, Newman said.

“Reading is a great equalizer,” she added. “If you can’t read, you can’t express yourself. You don’t know words. You have to have a long history of reading books.”

The Little Read
Montclair Public Library Director Peter Coyl, in The Big Red Chair. COURTESY MONTCLAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY

FILLING THE CHAIR

Local dentist Ed Gold has read at The Little Read many times. And he has sat in The Big Red Chair.

The Little Read
ED GOLD

“It’s such a commanding presence,” Gold said. “All these young children, looking up at you. You have everyone’s attention.”

While he may have been a little nervous at first, the young audience was so gracious he soon got over that.

“The kids laughed at certain points when I was reading,” he said. “It was like reading to my own kids. You have a child’s undivided attention.”

When he read at Van Vleck House & Gardens, he did not read in the chair: the chair lives in the library. At Van Vleck, Gold discovered that his choice of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” had been scooped by the reader before him, so all his careful rehearsal went out the window.

While the idea is to have readers choose their own beloved books, the library makes sure to have others on hand, so Gold read a different book.

Coyl intends to read “Dragons Love Tacos,” by Adam Rubin.

“Kids are interested in wordplay and rhyming,” Coyl said. “Onomatopoeia is entertaining to kids. These are also building blocks in learning to read. Children learn to read in various stages, and one of the keys to that is hearing words and repetition. It’s how kids learn to talk.”

For the library, The Little Read is a way to promote reading.

“It’s important for parents to know this is something they can do with their own kids,” he said. It’s also important for parents to model the behavior of reading: “Kids see parents on their cell phones and mimic that. If they see their parents reading, children will want to mimic what their parents and caregivers do. It’s important for parents to do that.”

Like Gold, Coyl loves to hold the children’s attention.

“You can tell when kids are excited,” he said. “They are fidgety, happy, talking fast with friends. Sometimes kids show excitement by being more animated.”

And children can’t resist the urge to get up on the chair too. Newman knows The Little Read resonates when she sees the faces of the kids climbing up on the chair.

But the chair almost did not make it to The Little Read, Hentschker said. There were concerns about its safety, about readers falling off of it.

The Little Read
The Big Red Chair rolls down the street for its first outing in The Little Read. COURTESY KRISTEN KEMP

It was his idea to build it.

Henstchker, who is a professor at CUNY Graduate Center Theatre Program, and director of

The Little Read
FRANK HENTSCHKER

the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, wanted something big, something theatrical. He learned about The Little Read from his wife, Eve Schaenen, who was on the library board then, he said. He determined to make an oversized chair that would connect peoples’ emotions, and make a grown-up feel like a child again.

“Nobody thought it would work out,” he said. He built it in his garage over the course of a weekend, and rolled it down the hill on big wheels that he purchased.

“So far, nobody has died,” he said with a laugh. It’s a performative situation, he said. Storytelling is a basic human activity, and this is “storytelling in a very pure sense. People put on masks in other cultures. Here there is a big chair, a shaman reading to kids, giving meaning to the world. It’s so exciting when they listen and ask questions. It makes you feel connected, making a contribution to the understanding that takes place to what life is about.”

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The Little Read
Oct. 16-20, various locations around town.
Community birthday party on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 4:30 p.m. Cupcakes will be served.

The Little Read event schedule that is open to the public is as follows:

Wednesday, Oct. 17
5:30-6 p.m.: Little Read Birthday Party Main Library Auditorium
Friday, Oct. 19
7-8 p.m.: Mayor Jackson and Peter Coyl will read Bedtime Stories, Montclair Public Library Auditorium
Saturday, Oct. 20
11 a.m.-noon: Firefighters will read at the Montclair Fire Department, 588 Valley Road
11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Wally Choice Community Center, 115 Bloomfield Ave.
Noon-1 p.m.: An inclusive community read for children of all abilities at Cornerstone Montclair, 198 Bellevue Ave.
1-2 p.m.: Museum staff will read at the Montclair Art Museum, 3 South Mountain Avenue
For more information, visit montclairlibrary.org

 

The Little Read
Children enjoy The Little Read. COURTESY MONTCLAIR PUBLIC LIBRARY