LEWISTON — Farwell Elementary School second-graders had a special story time Thursday.
Maine's first lady, Ann LePage, read the children's book, “Otis,” as part of a national “Read for the Record,” during which the same book was read across the country to set a record for the largest shared reading experience. The goal was to promote reading.
Not long after LePage arrived with a state trooper, two classes of second-graders filed into the library, took a seat on the floor and looked up at their guest.
“Hello, everyone! How are you?” LePage asked.
“Good morning,” the class answered in unison.
She asked how many had read “Otis." A few hands went up. She showed them a stuffed "Otis" doll (a smiling tractor), opened the book and began reading.
“There was once a friendly little tractor, his name was Otis. Every day Otis and his farmer worked together taking care of the farm ... "
As she read, LePage asked the class if anyone lived on a farm. No hands went up. “Does anybody have a tractor?” Half a dozen hands shot up. “Lots of tractors,” LePage said, returning to the story about a friendship between an old tractor and a young calf, how the farmer replaced the old tractor with a big, loud, new tractor. Then one day the calf got stuck in the mud pond.
“Do you think they're going to get him out?” LePage asked.
Some pupils said no, others said yes.
The story ended with the new tractor unable to rescue the calf and the old tractor saving it.
LePage thanked the children for their applause. “You were all wonderful," she said. "Because you were wonderful, I'm going to give you a surprise.”
As students left the library, LePage gave each a copy of the book. She exchanged high-fives, and stood with each child for a picture.
Ethan Rinko, 7, said he liked the story. Displaying excellent retention skills, he shared his favorite part. “I like it when Otis got the baby calf out of the mud pond.”
Summer Nelson, 7, said she liked it when the tractor and calf played running “in a circle around the mud pond.”
Neither student knew what a first lady was, but they understood LePage's visit was a big deal.
“I like her,” Nelson said. “Me too,” said Rinko.
The power of the first lady's visit “is first and foremost, reading,” teacher Diane Nadeau said. She had talked to her class about how the school was selected for the reading, that it was a special opportunity for them. “I think they felt pretty special about that,” Nadeau said.
LePage, a grandmother of two, participates in the annual “Read for the Record.” Last year, 2.3 million people participated. Reading to children, showing them it is important, is critical, LePage said.
“As my husband says, 'You learn to read and you read to learn,'" the first lady said. "If you can learn to read a book, you can do just about anything. That's how important it is.”