Montclair Local First Person: Not easy being green in the big red chair at the Little Read
By ERIN ROLL
In “First Person” we report on events in, well, the first person. Reporters draw on their own experience at the event to describe it.
I had Mark Teague’s “Frog Medicine” in my lap, and a gaggle of Northeast and Edgemont kids sitting criss cross on the floor in front of me.
It was 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 19. I was sitting in the audience in the auditorium of the Montclair Public Library, waiting to go on for the Little Read.
One of the Little Read readers was up in the chair, reading from Anna Dewdney’s “Llama Llama Misses Mama.”
Then another reader showed the kids a photo book of animals, including a fawn waiting for its mother to return. Definitely books of the cute and cuddly and gentle variety.
And there I was, about to unleash a weird and wacky tale of a boy who starts turning into a frog after blowing off a book report.
What would the kids think? Would they like it? Would any of the teachers start tut-tutting?
“You’ll do fine,” my mom had told me the night before. “You were reading reports on rockets to your class [when you were] in kindergarten.”
About the Read
There’s a lot of “Once Upon a Time” and “The End” in the Little Read.
It has been a Montclair tradition for 10 years.
This year, it saw 100 readers read to 800 kids from the Montclair public schools, and raised $26,000 in sponsorships.
For a whole week, readers from around the community - town administrators, police officers, teachers, doctors, dentists - scooted up into the giant red chair.
The giant red chair is the creation of Montclair resident Frank Hentschker, who is also a professor at CUNY Graduate Center Theatre Program.
The chair is designed in such a way that it makes grownups, who are mostly long past the age of having their feet dangle above the floor in a chair, feel like a kid again.
I’d wondered for a long time how people actually get up in the chair. Was I going to need to bring my own climbing gear?
Well, no, there was a step stool very helpfully placed at the base of the chair.
In September, the library put out a call for readers on its social media feeds.
And I sat there looking at the announcement for a moment.
I hadn’t read aloud to a group of kids since I was a kid myself.
I was a shy kid who grew up into a slightly less shy grownup. But I love books, and I love stories and storytelling. So I signed up for a Friday time slot for the Little Read before I could stop myself.
The hard part, after actually signing up, was actually deciding WHAT to read. Something both the kids - and I - would actually want to read, and that could be read in under 10 minutes.
The Magic School Bus books were leading the pack for a while. I also considered the Miss Nelson books by Harry Allard and James Marshall. We had a running joke in my family for years about the wicked substitute teacher Viola Swamp.
I eventually settled on “Frog Medicine,” with “Roxaboxen,” by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney as a backup book.
When I was in first grade, a substitute teacher read “Frog Medicine” to our class and it just stuck with me for some reason. Maybe it was the way the book talked about how even kids have days when the whole world just seems weird and scary and slimy. Or maybe it was the journey through the flooded streets full of lily pads.
There was a quick break so the kids could stand up and wiggle around for five seconds. One more reader. And then, me. I stepped up onto the stool and settled myself down on the giant red chair. They’re not kidding - that chair really is big.
I introduced myself and the book, opened up the book and started to read. “Elmo Freem wasn’t paying attention the morning Mrs. Drindle brought in books for book reports,” I began. And we were off to the races.
At about the midway point, my arm was getting a little sore from holding the book out at arm’s length. But I brought the kids through the flooded lily pad streets to Dr. Galoof’s office and back again.
“The end,” I said. The kids clapped as I stepped down.
One of the other readers needed my help to take a photo, so I had to put the book down on a chair. When I turned back around, there were three or four kids standing around the chair peering down at the book’s cover.
I think I’ve got a hit, I told myself.