Archive for the ‘Read love Grow’ Category

The Kids Are Alright

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

The Kids Are Alright

We are just home from our summer reading kick-off tour. After the first couple of shows I found myself singing that song from The Who. I’ve never really known the lyrics other than ‘the kids are alright’ so I looked them up. They are weird. It’s not at all what I thought it was about, if I even gave it any thought. Forget all that, just focus on that one line.

This was our first tour with the kids songs, playing to young readers mostly aged 6-9. We were more than worried. We were terrified. First, we were fearful for our own well being. Kids are honest. Brutally honest. What if they didn’t like us? What if they didn’t like the songs? What if they weren’t interested in the books we chose? Second, but way more important, we were fearful for their well being. What if they didn’t like us or the songs and we turned them off reading.

If our Read, Love Grow project is new to you here’s the short version of the back story: One lovely morning over coffee Aidan read that the for-profit prison industry uses the illiteracy of eleven year olds to determine the number of prison beds they will need in fifteen years. We clean up coffee. We cursed evil businesses. We cried. And then, we set aside our anger, our disgust, our heartbreak and got to work. If that research is what an industry bases its profit on, it’s probably accurate data. If they can use it, so can we. And we didn’t have to pay for it. There are a dozen other statistics that link reading at grade level by grade five to long term improvement in life. So we wrote songs inspired by ten amazing children’s books. Some of our generous, supportive friends and fans helped us pay for the recording, mixing and production of a CD called “Tell Me A Story” We developed a program to present these songs to kids as a way of encouraging them to read. We leave a CD or two with each library or location we visit.

In June we played for hundreds of kids across four states. We will continue to visit libraries, camps, schools, and after school programs talking to young readers about books that we enjoyed and sharing with them the process of using a book as inspiration for songs. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that is very similar to shows we do for grown-ups. But with the kids we also read a bit of a few of the books aloud. We ask them how they feel about the situations and characters in the books or what they think might happen. They sing. They dance. They ask a lot of questions.

A shout out to the librarians and library staff. They put out the books and authors that we referenced. They create comfortable spaces for the kids to listen and move around. They have programs like reading aloud to a dog to build reader confidence. One librarian told me that on rainy summer days they create “reading caves” from chairs and tables and blankets. The summer reading programs offer prizes (but of course the real prize is reading).

The accompanying adults were also pretty terrific; counselors who made up dance moves and a bus driver that helped us get the kids talking. And then there was the grandfather, who held the hand of the only brown child in the room and listened carefully as I talked about Marion Anderson. He smiled and nodded approvingly when I simply said she wasn’t allowed to sing at certain places because of the way she looked.

Much to our joy and relief the kids seemed to like us and the songs. They expressed an interest in reading. The young folks we met were incredibly smart, very engaged and willing to participate. They know that insects have six legs and spiders have eight. Not only did they ask about the harmonica and the capos and the tuner, they also listened intently to the explanations (even the Aidan-style lengthy detailed answers). They spoke in turn (mostly), listened to each other (mostly) and shared interesting comments and observations.

At the very first show a young girl told me that if I like “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus” there were a whole lot of other pigeon books I should read. Later someone suggested a Peter Seeger song. There were white-skinned, blue-eyed boys who were happy we sang in Spanish because they are learning Spanish. An avid reader with dyslexia told us that there are great audio books available for young readers. A group of kids serenaded us with “You Are My Sunshine” – it was adorable, but grown ups, please please teach your kids a happier song. And at the last show the last of a hundred questions was “why are CDs round?” Aidan offered a detailed, technical answer. They listened, asking some follow-up questions. One young boy laughed and asked me “what if CDs were square. I laughed and said it would be weird. But once the giggling stopped one young girl raised a hand. “Maybe a square CD only seems weird because we are used to them being round. If they had been square that would seem normal.” It silenced us. All of us. Aidan explained disruptive thinking to this group of 6-9 year olds. He told them how bold thinking led to inventions and big changes in the way the world worked.

Yeah, the kids are alright. Really alright. I hope they stay that way.