When we read, our imaginations go above the limit—we can make a book float or turn the world upside down. It is entirely possible, at least thousand of kilometers above from Earth, as astronaut Scott Kelly exactly did that in one of his book readings on the International Space Station!
He videoed himself reading Mousetronaut: Based on a (Partially) True Story, a picture book about a mouse that wants to travel to outer space. Our small hero perseveres until it gets chosen for the spaceflight. This book is written by Scott’s twin brother and former astronaut Mark Kelly.
The captivating video was among the many reading materials that wowed the primary schoolkids at Keystone Academy. These resources even stimulated their creativity, becoming their tickets to exciting and imaginative reading journeys. Keystone recently celebrated a literary extravaganza that employed the power of digital media to promote the passion for reading and writing.
The Keystone Libraries organized the Love of Reading Week on April 20 to 24, moving the celebration to the cyberspace this year to allow for collaborative activities within family and friends. In a separate event, Literature Playhouse hosted an online session with an award-winning author who talked about overcoming the struggles of being a literary creator.
Start with Wacky Ideas
When first-grader Oscar Zhao finally wore a colorful armor and brandished a gold-bladed spear, he immediately transformed into the valiant and handsome warrior Zhao Zilong, the third-famous general of the historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The only struggle that he had was he could not find a beard long enough to play the most famous general Guan Yunchang.
Oscar was so proud that his entire military garb was made of colorful paper pieced together by his mom. His spear, almost as tall as him, was assembled by his grandfather using a broomstick and a piece of cardboard.
Primary Librarian Carlie Spruill was not only thrilled by Oscar’s handmade cosplay for Character Dress Up Day, she also loved that his family members helped make the entire ensemble. The activity prompt was simple that other students like Harry Zhou from the first grade decided to step it up and turn into Elmer the Elephant—complete with a sturdy figure made out of boxes and colored paper.
Some students like fifth-grade Caesar Ma put their ideas on paper and make them come alive with vivid imagery. Caesar is one of Primary School’s rising young authors who has created three original picture books about environmental protection: Simba, Lion Fences, and Love Need Talk.
The first two books tell the story of Simba, the three-starred animal protector who tries to catch poachers in Africa. In Love Needs Talk, Caesar talks about the importance of communication in the family.
This semester, Library teacher Elaine Yin launched the Keystone Student Authors Online New Book Launch event to encourage students to continue writing picture books and stimulate their passion for creating graphic works. Ms. Yin said she was also surprised to see the creations of Caesar and other students, which they shared only during the online learning program.
Ms. Yin was so proud of Caesar and his achievement, especially when he presented the read-aloud of his books in the class and received a warm response from his peers. Primary Librarian Kristen Billings said there was strong participation in this year’s Love of Reading activities because many students were willing to try different activities. She added that the online form provided children a place to explore and engage with stories.
“I do believe that that is our primary responsibility: getting our students a place where they can engage with stories,” Ms. Billings said. “This allows them to escape in healthy and positive ways from what’s a very stressful, confusing, and hard-to-deal-with situation around the world for everybody.”
For the award-winning Chinese science fiction writer Hao Jingfang, encouragement is a crucial element to develop young writers and readers and help them find their interests. Ms. Hao graced Literature Playhouse’s Storyteller Author Talk on April 24 (Friday), coinciding with the Love of Reading Week’s Author and Book Illustrator Day.
Despite earning accolades including the Hugo Award for Best Novelette for her Folding Beijing, Ms. Hao said she still struggles with creating content—a harsh reality that may intimidate young authors. But she emphasized that children who found an interest in self-expression and creation could improve and remain sustainable as long as they evaluate themselves and seek feedback on their work.
It would help young writers, she said, to have a “circle of literary friends,” as what she found during her junior high school. Ms. Hao also remembered how she viewed writing as a way to release emotions, despite having no writing background at all. This passion continued in her years at Tsinghua University, starting with unpublished and “unsatisfying” compositions and culminating with her anthology, Invisible Planets.
Ms. Hao took inspiration from the Italian novel Invisible Cities for her acclaimed science fiction collection. In creating Invisible Planets, Ms. Hao found her field of interest and allowed her to express herself fully.
The award-winning author, who studied physics for her undergraduate and economics for her doctorate at Tsinghua, said any writer needs “comprehensive literacy” if they want to build a world that is believable and real for their audiences. Ms. Hao said writers can develop their rich knowledge base by learning their own fields, trying different jobs, or even talking with more people.
“But if you want to write a stunning story one day,” Ms. Hao said, “tap into your childhood heart.” She encouraged young writers to keep going even if others dislike their works.
“You need to have a strong motivation to keep looking forward to writing an excellent piece one day,” she added.
Keystone Director of Libraries Kacy Song considers the literary works by children to be among the best forms of expression because they capture the purity, curiosity, and enthusiasm of a young mind. That’s why she was blown away by the richness of content she and her Library Team received during the Love of Reading Week.
During the week’s Poetry Day, students from across the Primary School submitted videos of reciting verses or their original compositions. Primary School Librarian Lizzy Wang was impressed by the wisdom of the students, such as fourth-grader Jesse Chen who composed “The World Is Sick.” It was even shared by Head of School Malcolm McKenzie in one of his weekly poetry reading messages.
On the sidelines of the Love of Reading Week, the Keystone Poetry Club initiated a collaboration with the Primary Library for two afternoons of poetry recitals via a video conference platform. Club vice president and ninth-grader Kevin Chai said it was the first time they organized such a virtual activity but worked out the technical challenges. Club president and eleventh-grader Shirley Zhao said the “conversational recitals” helped their primary schoolers to relax and better enjoy reading poetry.
Aside from the recitals, the Poetry Club actively promotes the passion for poetry through publications, including their annual anthology Whisper Among the Stones that features literary work from students, teachers, staff, and families. Shirley said they are expecting more submissions related to the pandemic for the third edition of the collection.
The club also launched a new project titled Keystone Diary and Photo Collection 2020*, which will visually present the experiences of the Keystone community during the pandemic. Kevin said the project is aimed to be a “self-releasing process” that can help submitters and readers to get through the misery brought about by the health crisis.
“This year’s Love of Reading Week is more personal and brought the love of reading and literature home,” Ms. Song remarked, saying that for some families, “it became a collaborative activity.”
The librarians also remarked how kids were continuing to submit their works even if the celebration already ended. Ms. Wang even had some parents asking when their children’s works would be uploaded online. Ms. Billings said kids should not be limited by the act of “reading”—or perusing printed material as there are many ways to “read” such as listening to audiobooks, watching a play, or engaging with stories.
“Reading expands our experiences and imaginations and it is the quickest way for us to see and understand more things. It is also an effective way to empathize with others and know their feelings,” Ms. Song said. “So, keep reading, even if the Love of Reading Week is over!”
* For Keystone community members who wish to submit entries for the Keystone Diary and Photo Collection 2020, please firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image: BookFace submissions from Keystone Primary School students
Videos of Oscar Zhao, Caesar Ma, Jesse Chen republished with the permission of the Keystone Primary Library