For the last 29 years, the same event has happened every spring in the halls of Woodlands Elementary.
Students line the hallways, sitting on the ground and wait for the doors of the library to swing open.
It’s the start of the annual book parade, where select students strut about the halls with a rolling library cart decorated in a way to showcase details of a book their class read together.
“A ‘Book Float’ is a wheeled contraption that is decorated to celebrate a book or author,” said Jeff Sullivan, a learning specialist who has taken part in the event for the last 20 years.
Aside from having visually exciting pieces to showcase for those who line the hallways, it is also an opportunity for children to see new books they may not have heard about before, he said. Sullivan and other staff members also voted on the carts, draping banners across for “best adventure,” “best use of dimension” and the like.
After the initial hallway parade, students gathered inside the gymnasium to watch the book floats go past one more time. As students walked their book banner and wheeled their cart down the center for all to see, two master of ceremonies read summaries of the books to the students.
Books like “Angry Carrots,” “Hatchet” and “Arrow to the Sun” were among class picks for the parade.
“It’s a Pueblo Indian folk tale,” third-grader Josiah Ferraro said of the “Arrow to the Sun” cart, which featured a large construction paper sun. The cart won the “most eye-catching” award as presented by staff for its use of bright red, orange and yellow construction paper for decorating.
Ferraro said he enjoyed parading through the halls holding the banner introducing the book and sharing the story with others.
He also noted that reading should be important to all students, not just some.
“You can learn more and you have something to do so you’re not always bored,” Ferraro said.
The event was also tied to celebrating the school’s Reading Olympics statistics for the event that took place in March. Students were encouraged to read individually and then report back to their teacher how many minutes they read.
During a celebration assembly inside the gym after the book parade ended, principal Jeff McCormick announced the grand total of minutes read during the Reading Olympics.
When McCormick told the students they read nearly half a million minutes, the auditorium roared with clapping and cheering.
“Boy and girls, I am so happy to see you are this excited about reading,” McCormick told the students.
Sixth grader Hailey Bradley is one of those students who love to read. On average, Bradley suspects she reads about 15 books per month.
“When you start reading at a young age, you get better grades,” she said. “Reading is fun. I love to read.”
For some, the memories of the book parade over the year is the best part of the annual event.
Woodlands teacher Molly Eberle-Wickens remembers participating in the parade years ago as a student. Now, sitting on the sidelines, she watches her students’ faces as they experience what she did at their age.
“It brings back really fun memories,” she said. “We want to do everything we can to encourage literacy. A lot of kids don’t read anymore. Anything we can do to encourage reading is a good thing.”
The idea for the parade came from a simple gathering after school among a librarian, a teacher and a library clerk.
Debbie Smalley was one of the three original founders of the parade. She and two other employees were in the library where a rolling library cart was nearby. One of the other women jokingly rolled along the cart and mentioned the idea of doing a fun, little book parade.
Now, years later, Smalley watches the parade with a mixture of pride and amusement knowing a conversation years ago started the tradition.
“I enjoy watching the kids get creative and get so excited and learn so much,” said the library clerk. “I’m kind of amused at how excited they are every year.”
And while not too much has changed since it started in 1985, there is one thing that has made a noticeable difference.
The technology, Smalley said, has allowed for more creativity.
When Smalley’s daughter was a third grader at the school, her class made a haunted house that lit up. In this year’s parade, it was a flashing montage of photos on one of the carts, and a slideshow to supplement the program in the gym.
“I imagine we’ll see more of that in the future,” she said.
As for first-grade Devyn Harden, there wasn’t one particular float or book that stuck out the most to her. As each one went by, some of the school’s youngest students clapped and cheered.
“I think it was really cool,” she said. “The floats were cool.”