Brother, Sister Win Prize for Reading a Walloping Number of Books

In the age of video games, iPods and the Internet, the notion that children today don't read enough is an oft-repeated refrain.

But there are always exceptions to the rule. And two of them — Sarah Stern, 8, and her brother David, 5 — live right here.

Over approximately two months, Sarah, a third-grade student at Uwchlan Hills Elementary School in Downingtown, read 185 books. Meanwhile, her little brother David, a kindergartner at Kesher Israel Congregation in West Chester, had 183 books read to him.

My kids "literally swept the shelves" of Kesher Israel's library, said their mother, Debra Stern, a resident of Exton.

Their reading marathon was part of a "read-in" sponsored by the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education. Open to children under 12, the annual contest doles out prizes — highlighter pens and certificates — to participants who finish three or more titles.

This year, the Stern children read so many books — 378 collectively — that they set a contest record. In honor of this feat, Auerbach has promised to plant two trees in Israel in their names.

The agency stipulates that all books must relate somehow to Judaism — either by recounting Jewish holidays, instilling Jewish values, or centering on historical or fictional Jewish characters.

According to Nancy Messinger, Auerbach's director of educational resources, this year 77 students read a total of 694 Jewish works.

The organization is trying to "promote Jewish literacy and continue the joy of Jewish reading," she explained.

She said that ACAJE, which has been running the contest for about 12 years now, always provides recommended reading lists.

New volumes this year, for example, include Miriam's Journey: Discovering a New World, a fictional illustration of the Jewish immigrant experience; Albert Einstein: Jewish Man Behind the Theory, a biography of the renowned scientist; and The Miracle of Hanukkah, a children's account of the story of Judah and the Maccabees. The titles are arranged according to age group, with older children delving into more advanced material and heavier topics, such as the Holocaust.

Messinger said that Auerbach collaborates with local Jewish schools to promote the read-in, and that it often partners with synagogue libraries to make age-appropriate selections available.

But turning children into bookworms also requires the help of parents, stressed Messinger.

"They're the ones who have to take the child to the library, who have to read to them," she said. "The families play a strong role in this."

Just ask the Sterns.

During the read-a-thon, Debra Stern said that she took her children to the library at least twice a week, and estimated that she and her husband, Michael, put in nearly 75 hours reading to their son.

"We read to him any time we had a moment free," she said. "Even Sarah read some books to him."

But according to the mother of two, the time investment was well worth it.

"Just getting the literature down and reading more about themselves and their history — I think that that's a wonderful thing."

Daughter Sarah seemed equally enthused.

"I felt like I had to scream," she said, when she heard the winners' names announced. "I was really, really happy."



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here