Page turner: CHS student is using the Internet to keep kids engaged with books

Tori Pentell, a junior at Coventry High School, launched her Tori's Reading Railroad Facebook group last week. 

COVENTRY — As she read a book in bed one night last week, Tori Pentell got an idea. 

“I’d been racking my brain since this whole thing began to figure out a way that I could give back to the community,” the Coventry High School junior said Sunday. “And while I was reading, it just kind of dawned on me.”

Thinking of all those who, like her, are stuck at their homes because of the coronavirus outbreak, Pentell on Wednesday took to the internet to launch Tori’s Reading Railroad.

“It’s so out of the ordinary to not be able to leave your house,” Pentell said, recounting the impetus behind the Facebook group, where she regularly posts videos of herself reading children’s books aloud. “I’m not the only one that’s feeling these effects, and the younger kids don’t understand it at all.”

To kick things off, Pentell has been reading “Thea Stilton and the Chocolate Sabotage,” a chapter book she said is geared toward children ages three to nine. The chapters are fairly short, and Pentell said she’s been reading around 20 pages during each afternoon live stream. 

She’s also begun in the mornings and evenings to read stories for the youngest among her listeners. Those readings, she said, are generally directed at an audience of three- to six-year-olds. 

In the few days since she created her Facebook group, Pentell’s videos have received hundreds of views. 

In selecting the books for her older listeners, Pentell said she’s drawn to those that she herself enjoyed when she was younger. Among her favorite series growing up were Geronimo Stilton and the Magic Treehouse. She was also a big fan of Judy Blume.

When it comes to choosing books to read to the younger crowd, however, Pentell has been relying on input from her five-year-old sister Luna. 

“It’s perfect,” she said. “I haven’t been five in quite some time, so I don’t really know what they want to read.”

Born of Pentell’s desire to help out during a time of so much uncertainty, Tori’s Reading Railroad marries the self-proclaimed avid reader’s love of books and her passion for working with children. 

She’s not sure of what exactly she’d like to pursue beyond high school, but Pentell is certain of one thing.

“No matter what, whatever I do, I want to work with kids,” she said, adding that she’s thinking about studying childhood psychology after she graduates next year. 

The third eldest of nine children, Pentell said she’s developed a maternal nature over the years. And with so many siblings, she added, her home over the decades has accumulated a massive collection of books.

In addition to keeping herself and her audience busy with stories like “Ten Hungry Seagulls” and “I’m a Unicorn,” Pentell said she hopes her “reading railroad” will also allow parents some time each day to relax.

Pentell said she’d like to continue her virtual story time even after everyone returns to their lives as they were before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“I would do it even if I just had one person watching,” she added. “For me, if I’m helping just one mom or just one dad catch a break, that’s enough.”

And while she’s eager to offer families some daily calm, Pentell also would like to be seen as a sort of ambassador for today’s teenagers.

“My generation is put down a lot for not paying attention, sitting on our phones and not really caring,” she said. “I hope I’m able to show families that, yes, there are kids like that, but there are in every generation. My generation is also full of kids like me who love to help and who have big aspirations.” 

Pentell hopes, too, that through Tori’s Reading Railroad she can inspire her young listeners. 

“I hope that kids realize that the smallest things can honestly change the world,” she said.


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