FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — More than 70 Fort Leonard Wood service members and Department of Defense civilians read to children March 2 in schools across mid-Missouri as the Fort Leonard Wood community participated in Read Across America Day.
Since it was first celebrated in 1998, the day has provided an opportunity to coordinate a nationwide effort to encourage reading in children and teenagers.
“Books and reading are so important for children because it helps to spark ideas and build vocabulary,” said Lori Crabtree, librarian at the on-post Wood Elementary School. “As children read, they use their imagination to visualize the characters and setting.”
Crabtree recalled a memory from when she was new to being a librarian — a student told her that he hated to read.
“He and I worked together to help find the perfect book for him,” she said. “It was the best feeling when a few days later he ran into the library to tell me how much he loved the book. He said, ‘I can actually see this book in my head — just like a movie!’ From that moment on, he was hooked.”
Having service members demonstrating their enthusiasm for reading is a “powerful” example for children to witness, Crabtree added.
“(It) helps them see that reading can be fun at any age,” she said. “It’s especially powerful for our students to witness the joy and laughter that sharing a book together can bring.”
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Million, the operations NCO for the Army Reserve deputy assistant commandant at the U.S. Army Military Police School, spent part of his day in Sullivan, Missouri, reading at Sullivan Elementary School. The Troy, Missouri, native said this was the second time he has participated in Read Across America events while stationed here — he read to students at Wood Elementary in 2020 — but reading to children has been a favorite activity of his for many years.
“I went to visit my step-mother’s second-grade classroom while on leave in 2007,” he said. “I went in uniform and she asked if I would enjoy reading to the kids. I went through the books, grabbed one I liked as a child, and started reading to them. I started to visit her classroom whenever I was on leave and do the same thing through the years. It’s something that has always stuck with me.”
Million, who said he has worked with special needs children as a para-professional in the past, added that he enjoys being a positive influence in children’s lives.
“It’s always amazing seeing the impact you can have on them in such a short time,” he said. “I think reading is one of the most important things that young children can do. It can get them outside of their comfort zone, teach them new things, challenge them and can also bring them closer to other people.”
As for his own “two Million” children, as he jokingly refers to them, Million said he focused on instilling in them a love of reading early on.
“I’ve been reading to them since they were little and now we take turns reading,” he said. “I also like to bring them to libraries as well as book stores. I’m wanting to give them the same love of reading that I have and hopefully it continues through their lives.”
Visit the Fort Leonard Wood Flickr page to see more photos from the installation’s support of Read Across America Day.