Reading Rocks: For the Love of Literacy

Learn how Dr. Curtis Ivery, Wayne County Community College District Chancellor, and wife Ola Ivery, have become Detroit's reading champions

He was partial to Huckleberry Finn and biographies of George Washington Carver and Abraham Lincoln.

She loved Dr. Seuss as a child, then discovered a love for Little Women and The Diary of Anne Frankas she got older.

But while their taste in tomes was different, Dr. Curtis Ivery and wife Ola Ivery, had one important thing in common when they met — they were readers.

The joy of getting lost in the pages of a “good book,” of having words and sentences swirl in your head and conjure an entire universe beyond your four walls, your personal history, your community — that was something the Wayne County Community College District Chancellor and his wife have always valued. They knew it was a first-class ticket to a trip around the world and a successful life – and it was something they wanted for every child.

“Reading builds a child’s vocabulary and that expanded vocabulary builds confidence. Their grades improve and they process ideas much better than children who aren’t relying on literature to exercise their brains. Basically, they become critical thinkers,” Dr. Ivery says. “I can’t emphasize that enough. Show me a child who reads, and I’ll show you a child who is curious and has an active imagination. And, by now, most educators realize that imagination is one of the building blocks of intelligence.”

That’s why Dr. and Mrs. Ivery founded The Chancellor’s Reading Carnival for Children, a massive literary event that attracts more than 1,000 children and their families to the WCCCD campus in downtown Detroit.

Historically, kids who attended got to talk to notable authors and poets and pick up free books, educational supplies and refreshments.

“Children probably come because they enjoy the face painting, the snacks and the giveaways,” Ivery says. “But, in the process, they get an up-close-and-personal exposure to a lot of area writers. All in all, they have a good time, but the point of the carnival is to celebrate reading.”

This year, due to the pandemic, the event is paused, but Mrs. Ivery is planning a virtual Bookworm Club for kids in grades PreK-5. The event is slated for April and details can be found at wcccd.edu.

It will be a great opportunity for children to discover the joy of reading — something that Dr. and Mrs. Ivery fostered at home as well. Last year, Dr. Ivery wrote a book to help other parents raise little booklovers. “The Wonder of Words: A Parent’s Guide for Raising Children Who Read” is filled with practical — and fun — ideas to lay the foundation for a lifelong love of reading. His top piece of advice is simply to model the way.

“Children need to see their parents reading. It’s been proven over and over that children don’t always hear what we say, but they definitely watch what we do,” Dr. Ivery says. “That means parents need to set a good reading example at home. If they don’t have time in their busy schedules for a full book, they should make sure their children see them reading newspapers or magazines.”

Reading in any form is a good thing as far as the Iverys are concerned. So, while they aren’t big graphic novel fans and prefer to read physical books, they advise parents to encourage kids to read what they want and how they want to – even on screen devices.

“Sometimes, you simply have to go with the flow and, right now, super heroes are big and graphic novels are a hit. They’re also a major step in a positive direction,” Dr. Ivery says. “If they can get lost in the ‘bad reading,’ they can eventually get lost in something substantial and of greater literary quality. In my opinion, it’s a natural progression. All it takes is time, patience and a little bit of nudging from a parent or teacher.”

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