‘Porter the Hoarder’ book series engages South Dakota families
I’m from a super small town in South Dakota and have spent the last decade in Hollywood making movies (the best known ‘round these parts being Napoleon Dynamite).
Recently, I’ve also become a children’s book author!
When I set out to write my first book, I expected to tell a fun story. I did not expect to get swept into a family engagement movement that has resulted in the most fulfilling project of my life.
But to tell you about that, I should start by telling you about the book.
My first book, Porter the Hoarder and the Ransacked Room, is a look-and-find adventure where “Bigs” (meaning parents, siblings, adults at home) read with Littles (kiddos pre-K through 3rd grade) to help a snappy little girl named Porter find all sorts of crazy things hidden in her garbage-dump of a room—things like Porter’s collections of ten snotty handkerchiefs, six lightning-fried lizards, and two moldy sandwiches.
When all the objects are found, the book asks, “Should Porter keep them?” The reader responds out loud: “Yes!” or “No!” Porter then loses her mind—overwhelmed with glee or overcome by strife.
Of all the words I’ve written in this post so far, the most important word is “WITH.”
Bigs read WITH Littles.
When Creator/Illustrator Rebecca Swift and I set out to create “Porter the Hoarder,” the central idea of the book was to get Bigs reading WITH Littles. Together, together, together.
We wanted to mix the fun of reading an interactive book like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus with the engagement of a look-and-find book like Where’s Waldo.
So, we did!
However, when we created “Porter,” we did not know that these two issues—engaging families and developing early reading skills—were at the top of educators’ “fix it” list.
As I was finishing the first “Porter” book, I met Jamie Toennies and Kayla Klein of the United Way and Black Hills Reads. They opened my eyes to some “holy heck what!?!?” things you might already know, like:
– Millions of families–regardless of their place on the socio-economic totem pole–lack time spent on meaningful family engagement around reading.
– Only 32 percent of elementary students in the U.S. read at grade-level.
– Low reading skills in 3rd grade are so devastating that they can be correlated with prison capacity planning.
After my jaw bounced off the floor, we went straight into brainstorming a plan to take a swing at the four-pronged problem:
1. Lack of time for reading.
2. Lack of access to books that children are EXCITED to read.
3. Parents not knowing how to read with their children.
In that very first meeting, the Porter the Hoarder Reading and Family Engagement Project was created.
If you want to see how it works, check out the video at the end of this post.
The first week of February in 2019, 2,000 local children received free copies of “Porter the Hoarder and the Ransacked Room” at school-wide launch day events, along with “Parent Homework” to spark reading together at home.
The partnership immediately grew to include the newly-formed South Dakota Statewide Family Engagement Center (SFEC). Ron Rosenboom, Pam Lange, and Morgan VonHaden were looking for a project to offer schools, which would serve as an introduction to the SFEC.
And introduce the Porter Project, they did!
Within the next 14 months, the South Dakota Statewide Family Engagement Center went from opening its doors to launching the Porter Project in 75 percent of all the elementary schools in the entire state! 20,000 books have now been given to children and their families for FREE!
Ever been the passenger on a rocket ship? I have.
We did launch day events, and YouTube Live events, and built all sorts of amazing classroom activities around Porter. All with the goal of getting Bigs to read WITH Littles at home.
But did it work?
Like, really worked.
– 96 percent of teachers surveyed said the project was successful in exciting kids to read and causing family engagement around reading.
– 94 percent of parents surveyed said the students demanded to read “Porter” the second they got home. Most reported repeat readings.
– Nearly half of parents surveyed reported other family members getting involved in reading.
– Frequently this included family members who had NEVER been involved in family reading before.
Blamo! Pow! Take that not-reading-together-at-home problem!
The Porter Project is now a yearly event in South Dakota and has grown even further to include American Sign Language reading events, Spanish language translations, an online game, and lots of classroom materials to support the momentum Porter creates.
As the Porter Project now expands to Utah, Montana, and North Dakota, I’m taking a moment to reflect.
In fact, I’m writing this blog post in my office in Deadwood, S.D., at the same table where I typed the text of the first Porter book. It’s the same table where I met Jamie and Kayla and Ron and Pam and Morgan and cracked the idea for the Porter the Hoarder Reading and Family Engagement Project.
And now, I’m writing this message to you.
In the last year, we’ve published four more “Porter the Hoarder” books with two more coming out this summer.
What a fun journey it has been.
I truly cannot wait to see where it goes next!
Contact author Sean Covel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to watch how the Porter the Hoarder Reading and Family Engagement Project was created.