Dedicated Booktalker and Treasure for Third-Graders
by Donna Childs, MCL volunteer
As a Books 2 U volunteer, Ethelyn Pankratz talks to third-graders at two Portland schools about books. And she is a natural at it: even during our interview, she went through the seven books she had brought, pointing out especially good illustrations or photographs, showing what she liked about each, and how they might appeal to children—demonstrating a “booktalk” without my realizing it.
The Books 2 U program trains volunteers and provides books for students in third, fourth, and fifth grades; volunteers then choose titles from the many possibilities in the Books 2 U office. On this day, Ethelyn’s choices ranged from wordless books to those with mostly words, beautifully illustrated works, easy readers, adventure tales, and science. Since each classroom session is limited to 20 minutes, she goes through them rapidly, but without seeming to hurry.
The booktalker training includes learning to catch students’ attention, and in her 18 years of volunteering, Ethelyn has become adept at “reading” the students and choosing books that will interest them. She admitted that working with third graders may make her task easier because they are intrigued by everything and eager to learn. To do this well, she said, a volunteer must love reading, be aware of the kids’ varied reading levels, and have a good sense of what elements of a book to emphasize.
An ideal Books 2 U volunteer, Ethelyn spent most of her career in education: as a preschool teacher, an art instructor for Portland Public Schools, as executive director of what was then called the Association for Retarded Citizens, administering a program for people with developmental disabilities, and even working with an organization that brought young people from Myanmar to be educated in the U.S., hoping that they would return home and teach others.
When she retired, Ethelyn wanted to do something useful that she would enjoy. When I asked what she likes best about volunteering with Books 2 U, she replied, “watching their eyes light up—seeing them become engaged with a book. Since some schools no longer have libraries, we are a way to reach kids who might not be introduced to the world through reading.”
A few facts about Ethelyn
Home library: Capitol Hill
Currently reading: a science-fiction trilogy by Brandon Sanderson
Favorite book from childhood: Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter
A book that made you laugh or cry: The Little Colonel by Annie Fellows Johnston
Favorite section of the library: young adult books
E-reader or paper book? Both. I like the ability to adjust fonts on e-readers, but I prefer the feel of paper books, especially if I want to keep a book.
Favorite reading guilty pleasure: reading in the daytime
Favorite place to read: on the couch or in bed
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