Literary characters share their stories with students

LOWER SALEM – The Wicked Witch of the West, Glenda the Good Witch and Dorothy put aside their differences Thursday evening and settled in at Salem-Liberty Elementary School to hear “One Hundred and One Dalmations” read by none other than Cruella DeVille.

The “Wizard of Oz” characters were students at Salem-Liberty, and the villainess was portrayed by fourth-grade language arts and intermediate math teacher Ericka Schneider as part of the school’s Family Reading Night.

“I just like to do outrageous costumes ’cause I know the kids really like outlandish characters,” she said.

Her character may have been outlandish, but she wasn’t frightening kindergartener Riley Fleeman, who came dressed as a dinosaur “’cause they’re scary.”

“No, she wasn’t scary,” Fleeman said of Schneider.

The school holds a Family Reading Night once in the fall and once in the spring as a way to encourage children to read and their families to support them.

“Families who read together succeed together,” said Laura Warren, Title I reading instructor at the school, dressed as Ladybug Girl.

“Can’t do much if you can’t read,” added school librarian Diana Booth, dressed as Miss Smith, a librarian from another children’s book.

Fleeman’s mother Missy said the event was great.

“I think reading’s very important and kindergarten, first grade I think is the best time to get them interested in it,” she said.

The evening served as a kickoff to the school’s renewed participation in the Book It! program, in which classes can earn pizzas from Pizza Hut if they meet a goal of reading a certain number of books or for a certain amount of minutes each month, starting in October.

Seventy-two children, including some younger siblings, attended the event, Warren said. The school’s total enrollment is 131.

Students moved among classrooms where teachers read stories while dressed as characters from those books. In the cafeteria was pizza and a selection of books the kids could take home with them.

Special education teacher Renay Eddy was made up as the Mad Hatter from “Through the Looking Glass,” which she told students gave her a certain amount of latitude in how she could act over the course of the evening.

“I’m allowed to be as mad as I need to be,” she said.

Listening to her read was fourth-grader Kylee Stille, dressed as her favorite book character, Fancy Nancy.

“With Fancy Nancy, I like how she always (wears) fancy stuff and pink,” she said.

A few storytellers drew the interest of some students more than others. Fourth-grader Brayden Treadway somewhat reluctantly went with his younger sister to hear teacher Stephanie Fobes read “Little Red Riding Hood” as the title character, but was quite excited to visit the classroom where fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Doug Pfeffer was reading in a Batman costume.

Warren called school secretary Jerry Lowe “our costume queen,” noting she provided some teachers and students with outfits for the evening.