Imaginary Theatre show benefits Ready Readers

Research shows that most low-income children enter elementary school unmotivated to learn how to read, because their families do not read to them on a regular basis, and because they lack books at home. Without understanding the significance of reading, most of these children find it difficult to learn how to read and rarely read well. As a result too many low-income children do poorly in school and grow up to repeat the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. In 1997 Pat Simons, former teacher and attorney, decided to try to rescue these kids and founded Ready Readers, today an award winning, non-sectarian, not-for-profit corporation whose sole mission is to inspire at-risk preschool children to become readers and help them break out of that cycle.

On Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. at the Clayton High School Auditorium the Imaginary Theatre Company (ITC) and Ready Readers will present a special performance of The Ant and the Grasshopper, a charming musical adaptation of an old fable. The play, by Brian Hohfeld, is about a little ant who admires a lazy, happy-go-lucky grasshopper who is something of a dreamer and a mooch. The ant’s industrious, self-sufficient family tolerates the grasshopper until he behaves ungratefully and irresponsibly again. There is a lesson about hard work and friendship to be learned from the tale. Tickets for The Ant and the Grasshopper are $10 for both children and adults with all proceeds benefiting Ready Readers. For tickets in advance, call 314-991-1903. The play, by the way, is appropriate for children ages 4 1/2 to 9.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

When Ready Readers was founded more than ten years ago with “three ladies and a teenager as readers”, its mission was to inspire low-income preschool children to become readers by reading aloud to them and by increasing their exposure to high-quality books. That mission remains the same, but the huge difference is that there are about 250 trained Ready Reader volunteers who are currently reading weekly to over 5,000 children in 90 Head Starts and similar programs throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan area. Such regular contact results in strong bonds between a reader and his or her children who connect books with a pleasurable experience every week. At six week intervals, Ready Readers provides each reader with an award winning picture book and bookplates with which to personalize each book. The reader reads the book aloud to all the children, then gives each child in the group a personalized copy of the same book, and then reads the book again…this time with all the children “reading” along.

Ready Readers’ goal in 2008 is to reach out to 6,000 children and to give them 36,000 high quality books. This takes both more financial support and more volunteer readers. Pat Simons tells me that new readers are provided with initial and on-going training, including a professional video in which experienced readers demonstrate and teach how to prepare in advance to read to a group of young children, how to capture and hold their attention and how to maximize the pleasure of reading aloud. Most of the volunteers read aloud once a week at the same time and place to the same preschool children, so that the readers and their children form strong bonds.

I remember reading to my young children and probably loving it more than they. As adults they are voracious readers. When the first Harry Potter book appeared at the booksellers my granddaughter Claire, now a high school senior, was not enamored of reading at school. My daughter Leslie decided to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone aloud to her, and being somewhat of an actress, she dramatized all the voices. Subsequently Leslie has read the remaining six books aloud to Claire who, in turn, occasionally reads to her mother. “I am sure that this experience was responsible for her love of literature today,” Leslie told me. My family was lucky to have built in readers, but not all kids are that fortunate. As a Ready Reader volunteer you could enhance a young child’s life and improve his or her future. To volunteer call 314-991-1903. Ready Reader volunteers come from all walks of life. Many are high school and university students while others are business people and retirees who volunteer once a week. I am told that volunteering as a Ready Reader takes only about an hour a week, including travel time.

A word here about the Imaginary Theatre Company. It is the resident, professional, touring ensemble of the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and consists of four actors, a stage manager, an artistic supervisor, and administrative director, set, prop and costume designers, and a support crew from The Rep.

In other words, this is professional quality theatre whose production of The Ant and the Grasshopper for Ready Readers will be a special experience for the young audience.