A hundred students volunteer to stay after school (all night, in fact) to read books.
As the soft piano music of George Winston echoed through the elementary school auditorium, 12-year-old Scott Avison stretched out on his red sleeping bag, fluffed his pillow and continued reading his book.
All around him on the hardwood floor, 99 classmates were also camped out with books in a place normally reserved for pageants and assemblies, all taking part in a giant slumber party for fifth- and sixth-graders from Esther Lindstrom Elementary School in Lakewood and Frank E. Woodruff Elementary School in Bellflower.
But it was not an ordinary stay-up-all-night-and-throw-pillows sleep-over. The purpose of the event, say officials of the Bellflower Unified School District, was to get students interested in books through storytelling, skits and poetry readings.
Teachers and parents who chaperoned the event were a little skeptical at first. After all, they would not only have to keep the sometimes-rambunctious group entertained for five hours, until lights out at 11, but their mission was to get them to read on a Thursday night when many would probably otherwise be home watching “The Cosby Show” or “Cheers.”
Appropriately, the name of the event was Thursday Night Prime Time, one of many creative activities the two schools have sponsored this year to stimulate students and help them discover the joy of reading.
Prime Time was conceived by D. C. Heath, a national publisher of textbooks, said Jean Carlin, Western Region reading coordinator for the company.
Ted Andrini, a representative for Heath, said Bellflower is the first Southern California school district to adopt the program.
For Avison, a sixth-grader at Lindstrom Elementary, reading at least an hour a day is no big deal. He says he does it routinely at home.
That night his choice was “Taran: Wanderer,” a story about a sorcerer seeking his parentage,” Avison said.
Avison said that he is a science fiction fan and cites H. G. Wells as one of his favorite authors, but he also enjoys C. S. Lewis.
“I love to read,” he said as he propped himself up on his elbows. “I just sit in my room for an hour every night with the radio slightly on and read. I like to think of what the characters look like in my mind.”
“I have a good imagination,” he said, shaking a head of sandy hair.
Avison, a slight boy with large brown eyes, admits that he is not like most students his age.
“They like to play a lot of video games and watch TV,” he said. “I guess they think reading is boring.”
For 12-year-old Joe Witton the important thing is whether he can relate to the characters. Witton was reading “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” a story about the relationship between a sixth-grade boy and his meddlesome little brother.
“Yeah, I have one of those,” Witton said with a smirk. “I can relate.”
Most of the boys seemed to favor science fiction, and judging by the book covers, the girls favored adventure stories.
Shasta Rivera said funny books are her favorite and that reading is her best subject at school. “I like books that make me laugh,” said the 12-year-old. “I also like books that teach me about other people.”
About 350 fifth- and sixth-graders wanted to attend, but only 50 from each school were chosen on a first-come, first-served basis, Assistant Supt. Georgette Arnold said.
“The response from students and teachers was overwhelming,” said Jeannie Cash, principal of Woodruff elementary. “We are already planning another one for the spring. This time we’ll include different students.”
At the end of the evening, the soothing strains of a Vivaldi concerto flowed from the speakers on the auditorium stage as the students settled down for the night with their stuffed animals and pillows and, of course, a good book.