Books, poetry and beloved children’s book characters filled the Estes Elementary cafeteria on a rare rainy evening. 

Children pasted poems on the Poet-tree: a paper tree littered with poems like fall leaves. Girl Scouts gave away books and sold cookies. Representatives from the nearby public libraries signed people up for library cards. And the representatives from the University of Arizona bookstore equipped children with supplies to make “Pete the Cat” stick puppets.

In a classroom, young students read “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” from scripts. They each acted out their part in Reader’s Theater, practicing fluency and expression (and of course giggling while they read). Their parents and siblings filled the little blue, plastic seats in the cozy room.

Marana Unified School District’s Estes Elementary School kicked off Love of Reading Month with the Spring Into Literacy event, last Thursday afternoon. Community members and organizations, including Bookman’s, local police and fire, local libraries, Bear Essential News, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, set up tables with literary activities and resources. As well, Title 1 educators were offering reading strategies for low-income families to use at home.

Open to the school’s 550 students and their families, the event even had pizza inside and a shaved-ice truck outside (because it’s never too cold for a snow cone).

Love of Reading Month includes a number of activities, running until the end of Spring Break, including designing Arizona-themed bookmarks to enter Gov. Doug Ducey’s Third Annual Bookmark Design Contest. There will also be a number of guest readers from the school district, local police and local fire visiting classrooms. And children’s author Chris Gall will give a presentation on writing.

“The number one thing we’re hoping to achieve is just to inspire excitement for reading,” said Nikki Simpson, an MUSD educator and the event’s coordinator. “We’re hoping to make it exciting and fun, exposing our community to different types of reading and books.”

In the library, a student named Maggie, wearing a T-shirt that read “girl power,” handed Estes librarian Victora Galloway a bookmark she made at the bookmark station in the cafeteria. Galloway thanked her, beaming.

The star of the evening may very well be Mr. T. No, not the ’80s mohawked do-gooder, but a much furrier Mr. T, with the Canine Companions for Independence, or CCI. The dog Mr. T lay on the library floor and indulged a group of little girls who fawned over him. They took turns reading to him and the two other gentle dogs with CCI.

Galloway was overjoyed to have the patient pups in her library. Fourteen-year-old Mr. T spent 12 years in Vail schools helping kids get over insecurities around reading. His owner is in attendance as well. Paula Bloker is the author of a number of books about Mr. T, including “Just the Right Spot” and “Four Paws Down.” 

Another literature-loving pup in attendance was Dillon, who belongs to Sarah Hoover. She said kids feel safe reading to the dogs; they can be creative and talk in funny voices. No one is there to correct them or tell them they’re doing it wrong. That increases confidence, she said.

Galloway said a lot of students are embarrassed to read because they don’t think they’re at the right reading level, or they’re just nervous to read in public. 

“The reading dogs make it very easy because they don’t judge,” Galloway said. “They love to be petted. And they’re adorable—let’s be honest.”

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