Local Municipalities Prepare To Read For The Record Oct. 27

Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig and Royal Palm Beach Councilman Jeff Hmara at the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County’s luncheon announcing this year’s book, Nigel and the Moon. Photo courtesy the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County

Nearly 20 years ago, an organization called Jumpstart began a unique program that has turned into a nationwide initiative. Read for the Record is the world’s largest shared reading event that brings adult volunteers and children together as they all read the same book on the same day.

Since its inception, more than 24 million people have participated in the event, and this year it will take place again on Thursday, Oct. 27. Local municipal leaders also get involved and bring a new story each year to thousands of school children.

Every year, the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County hosts a Mayor’s Literacy Initiative that includes a special luncheon for local leaders to learn about the Read for the Record’s book of choice for the next event. This year, Jumpstart chose Nigel and the Moon by Antwan Eady. The story showcases a young boy with big dreams, who is afraid to share them with his community and family.

“Jumpstart’s motivation to initiate this national reading campaign was to bring attention to the importance of young children developing the early literacy and language skills needed to enter kindergarten prepared to succeed,” explained Jeanne Siccone, director of children’s literacy for the Literacy Coalition. “Since I have been involved with coordinating the campaign in Palm Beach County from the beginning, the countywide enthusiastic support and participation in Read for the Record has grown and exceeded all expectations. Palm Beach County leaders began volunteering as guest readers at elementary schools and childcare centers in their municipality, resulting in a substantial increase in the number of adults and children participating.”

Last year, 124 sites throughout Palm Beach County participated in the campaign, with 112 municipal leaders and staff volunteering as readers.

Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig said her village takes pride in having won Read for the Record in Palm Beach County, and they want to keep the streak going.

“One thing that inspires me is how the community has really wrapped themselves around this as an initiative,” Gerwig said. “We want to ensure our kids know how important it is to learn to read. And it’s important enough for the entire government to pretty much shut down for that day because we get our staff out. They give me a schedule, and then I just take off. I go all day to as many as they can get us.”

The Village of Wellington won first place in the large municipality category in 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021.

“She’s got a secret sauce,” said Royal Palm Beach Councilman Jeff Hmara, who was sitting next to Gerwig at the Literacy Coalition’s Mayors’ Luncheon. “We read as long as the schools themselves can actually allow us to visit them, and it has grown from year to year. I don’t mind holding Wellington up as setting the bar. We are good with that, because sooner or later we will clear that bar. That’s a little bit of the motivation.”

Hmara mentioned the campaign at recent village meetings and was surprised at the immediate and positive response from a community ready to get involved.

“It’s a really simple line that appeals to people. If you want kids to love to read — read to kids. Of course, people who haven’t done it before get a little anxious, but once they step into it, you can’t stop them,” he said.

The Village of Royal Palm Beach read to more than 1,900 children last year. Mayor Fred Pinto enjoys participating and is ready to get back to seeing the kids in person.

“Before COVID-19 happened, I used to go to the library and read to the kids. That was a great experience for everyone involved. I’m hoping to get back to do that,” he said.

The story of Nigel and the Moon addresses the questions and fears that everyone faces.

“The fear and anxiety Nigel feels in sharing his secret dreams and aspirations of becoming a dancer, superhero or an astronaut with anyone but the Moon, are emotions all of us can relate to,” Siccone said. “Nigel’s story is a reminder to find the courage to believe in ourselves and look to those in our lives who provide us with the support and courage to pursue our dreams and aspirations, whatever they may be.”

Pinto agreed that it’s OK to have big dreams and knows there are opportunities available that many children never realize are out there.

“I certainly wasn’t interested in becoming an elected official when I came down to Florida from New York. I worked on Wall Street for 20 years,” Pinto said. “Whenever I have an opportunity to congratulate fifth graders at their graduation ceremony, I always ask how many of them plan on becoming astronauts. I tell them by the time they get to college, their country is going to need them in our quest to colonize Mars. So that’s something to think about.”

When asked about previous Read for the Record books, Gerwig knew exactly which one was her favorite.

“They’ve all been really good, but I love The Bear Ate Your Sandwich,” she said, “because I like to ask the kids at the end, ‘Who ate the sandwich?’ and they would always say ‘the bear!’ It’s fun talking about so much more than the story.”

Both municipalities and individuals can register to be a part of Read for the Record by visiting www.literacypbc.org. Individuals interested in volunteering to read at local elementary schools and childcare centers must complete the volunteer reader registration form on the web site by Friday, Oct. 14. The Literacy Coalition also has activity suggestions that complement this year’s book available for free on the web site.