As rows of children file quietly into the auditorium at East Penn Elementary, author and illustrator Lindsay Barrett George waved to each of them with a hand-puppet mouse.
Barrett George visited each of the elementary schools in Lehighton this week to celebrate "Read Across America" and to get local children excited about reading. She did this by walking them through the process of creating a book, telling them how she gets ideas for stories, and finally reading two of her favorite children's books.
"I'm thrilled to be here," she said. "If this gets them excited, we've met our goals. We want to get them hooked on reading. Reading is a great thing to do. It's fun, and it makes you smart."
As the children settled into their seats, Barrett George turned up the energy by asking them questions about reading and books.
"Who in this room loves to draw? Who in this room loves to tell stories?" she asked. Nearly every hand shot into the air.
She then launched into a short talk about why she writes books, and why people should read. Reading is fun, she explained and she loves creating books that make young readers want to keep turning the page. Anyone can come up with a good idea for a story, she added.
"I believe that ideas are like fairies. They're in the air, everywhere. … Idea fairies could be whispering in your ear right now," said Barrett George. She said that her best ideas come when she is sleeping, driving, and walking.
"Where do ideas come from? Everywhere you look!" she added.
She then passed out paper to each student and walked them through a simple drawing. As she drew simple shapes, displayed on the wall through a projector, each child did the same. They had soon finished drawing a dog, which each child was asked to name.
Barrett George named her dog Maggie. She then read her book "Maggie's Ball," a story about a dog who loses his ball and must search for it in town. He finds his ball and a new friend to play with. She also shared photographs of her own dog named Maggie, who also loves to play fetch.
As the program came to an end, Barrett George reminded the children to keep doing what they love to do, whether it is reading, writing, drawing, or even dancing or playing sports.
"If you keep doing what you love, I will too," she promised.
Barrett George is an award-winning author who lives in White Mills, a small town in the Poconos. Her books have received Children's Literature Choice Awards, and her book "Box Turtle at Long Pond" was named a Children's Book of the Year by the Library of Congress.
Throughout Read Across America week, Barrett George also visited Mahoning, Shull-David, and Franklin elementary schools and Ss. Peter and Paul, all in Lehighton. She worked with students in small groups, encouraging children of all ages to take part in the program.
Read Across America is celebrated on March 2, the birthday of beloved children's author Dr. Seuss. Many schools, including Lehighton, choose to celebrate reading for the entire week in March. East Penn students spent one day studying a Dr. Seuss book and creating door decorations to celebrate their favorite books.
If their smiles were any indication, the children at East Penn enjoyed Barrett George's visit. But the adults also learned a few things about writing and the process of turning ideas into a book.
"I learned a lot about creating a book. It was very interesting, and she has been wonderful to work with," said Gloria Bowman, the director of curriculum, instruction, and grant writing, who organized the event using Title I funds.
School Principal Gretchen Laviolette was also pleased with the program, and hoped that the author's encouragement will stick with the children as Read Across America comes to an end.
"There's so much that children can learn from reading. There are books about every topic, whether they are interested in sports or history or animals," she said. "The rest of their lives will depend on reading."