With humor, songs, and a slide show with audience participation, Jim Ayles-worth brought his self-proclaimed "vaudevillian way" to promote literacy to North Clay Middle School Tuesday evening.
"I go all around the country to schools in the daytime," Aylesworth began with a song. "Promoting literacy in our young children. But in the evenings, when I get the voluntary audiences, I get to see the lovers of books." With arms as wide open as his smile, he touched his heart before he continued. "That is the most touching part for me to see: Parents bringing their children. Helping their children to become lovers of books."
Aylesworth believes that reading to a child will help make them more willing to learn. The more they learn, the more a child will love to read. The more they read, the more they learn, and so on. He encouraged the adults in the crowd to aid their children in this cycle.
"The number one advocate a child has is their teachers: And as parents, and grandparents, you are their number one allies."
With 25 years of teaching first grade Aylesworth has great insight into what young readers like. Every new class of students through the years of his teaching helped write, inspire, and critique each of his 30 books.
"When children say "Read it again," said Aylesworth during a slide show featuring pictures of his students. "I know they like it."
By using poetry and folklore, or creating new ideas in an old style, as a base for telling stories, he often writes books that have a musical feel about them.
The book "Old Black Fly", which is written like a familiar tune, is his most famous book. It was born out of a frustrating teaching moment when his students paid more attention to a fly than his writing at a blackboard. Aylesworth's teaching experiences have been invaluable in his understanding the power of books to a young child.
Another thing he likes to do with his books is make them noisey reads for children. "Hanna's Hog", probably the loudest book he's ever wrote, was born from his childhood visits to his grandmother's farm in Porter Co., IN. With a story about hog calling, it lead to some difficult moments in his first grade class the first time he read it. The children spent the entire day practicing calling hogs like in the book.
"I spent the whole day trying to quiet them." Aylesworth laughed. "The next time I read it, was on Friday, at 2 o'clock, right before the buss left for the weekend."
A Chicago resident, Aylesworth is a prolific writer with over 50 unpublished manuscripts ready for the future, and always carries a book in progress with him to work on in moments of inspiration. Taking an artistic and educational approach to writing his books, Aylesworth loves traveling around the country meeting children and their parents while promoting literacy.
"What impresses me most about the Brazil community is the effort to bring young kids and their parents together with books."
Jim Aylesworth's passion for books and teaching children has touched many people through the years. Students at the school from where he retired cried on his last day; but he is excited about the new journey he's on.
"America is my classroom now!" Aylesworth sang with joy to the audience. "Imagine the feeling..." he smiled at the young children gathered around him on the floor, and then out to the audience. "A plain man like myself touching a great old story, a classic, and making it better."