By DAVID PEPIN
National Reading Week brought plenty of guests to Meadowbrook Farms School last week, from local officials and media members to Olympic gymnasts and “The Amazing Race” contestants.
But the school’s biggest “get” may have been Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who left behind budget crunching and tax debates to play storyteller for a first-grade class.
The governor had the rapt attention of Laurie Ratigan’s class as he read “Miss Brooks Loves Books,” Barbara Bottner’s tale (illustrated by Michael Emberley and signed by each member of the class) of a reluctant young reader who is won over after the school librarian finds her a book about warts and ogres.
Well, the sight of Rhode Island’s highest-ranking state official leading a class in a good snort might have inspired her, too, if she had experienced it.
Children’s books have, indeed, come a long way from the Jack and Jill and Tip the dog stories Chafee remembered from his early days of reading.
?Reading is important every week of the year,” he said after he finished. “They enjoy it, and someday they’ll be reading to their own children.”
While Chafee has struggled at times to communicate with media, political critics and miffed taxpayers during his first three months in office, a room of their young children can present a different challenge, he admitted.
?There’s always a reluctant member of the group, and you try to reach out to them,” he said.
Ratigan said she landed the governor with the help of two of her class’ parents, Kristen Wheeler and Sara Whitney. The class was well prepared for him, having papered their whiteboard with a big “Welcome Governor Chafee” and their drawings of the state map, state flag and the Rhode Island Red.
?The kids have been so exciting about having him visit. He was really engaged with them, something that not everybody’s able to do,” Ratigan said.
?People didn’t think I could get the governor,” said Wheeler, a parent volunteer who helped round up the guests. “I contacted the governor’s office, he agreed, and we’re very appreciative.”
Wheeler said she relied on Facebook to reel in other guests, including local broadcast personalities, Rhode Island’s Michael Naylor from “Amazing Race” and Hana Ricna, former Czechoslovakian gymnast who now teaches at RISE.
Meadowbrook Farms Principal Ronald Areglado, who led a school assembly in a patriotic sing-along as they awaited Chafee’s arrival in the gym, was also beaming.
?It’s been a big day, and I can’t thank the Meadowbrook community and Mrs. Wheeler enough. It’s been extraordinary,” Areglado said.