Jessica Lambert was caught red-handed.
Right before lunch, while all the other first-graders were putting their things away, she was spied reading "Little Red Riding Hood." When the teacher confronted her, Jessica confessed on the spot.
She had been waiting for that moment.
The 6-year-old was one of several hundred pupils at Brooklyn Park Elementary School caught inthe act last week. Kindergartners leafed through picture books whilesixth-graders re-read their favorite mysteries in a school-wide contest to encourage all 425 schoolchildren to read. All those "caught" had their names placed in a fishbowl for the grand prize drawing.
"We wanted to get children to read independently, on their own initiative," said Gwen Atkinson, the school's reading coordinator, who organized the weeklong "Catch-a-Kid Reading" program.
Children also were awarded for strong public-speaking skills. Those who read well in class or gave a good presentation were sent to the principal's office.Principal Michael E. Trippett listened to their passage and then gave them a McDonald's certificate for a free cheeseburger.
"I had about 20 a day," he said, relaxing after the last boy read to him Friday. "A lot of them were novels, but some of the older kids read writing assignments."
Most of the second-graders picked passages from a book about animal teeth. "I didn't know that giraffes don't have front teeth," the principal said with a chuckle.
One boy read from "Charlotte's Web," and many of the older children tantalized him with snippets from suspense novels and mysteries. While some of the childrenwere straight-A students, others were average or even struggling with their class work, Trippett said.
"We didn't want this just to befor children that are in the top level in reading," she said. "Some kids who have been in trouble before came to the office for the firsttime for a different reason. Reading to the principal made them feelspecial."
Aaron Catlette, 10, was the last pupil to read to Trippett last week. He chose a passage from "My Best Bear Hug," a book he had begun reading the first week of this month. He said he liked the pictures and the way the words told a story.
"The house was falling down," he read in a clear voice as Trippett leaned over to look at the pictures. "The man and woman had little to eat."
Fifth-grader Katya Choma was eagerly waiting for the drawing Friday afternoon. Shehad been caught reading Jack London's "Call of the Wild" after finishing her spelling assignment.
"I was on Page 12," the 9-year-old recalled. "All these dogs were being picked on by one really big dog. Then somebody saw me."
But she didn't win the contest. Fifth-grader Brianne Milauskaf won the grand prize for the intermediate grades and took home a set of Newberry prize-winning books. Chris Gast, a third-grader, won in the primary division and received a stack of picture books.
Other pupils won pencils, bookmarks, books and activity pads at the smaller, daily drawings, Atkinson said. All the prizes were donated by the Parent-Teacher Association.
The contest was so successful that the school may organize another during next year's national Children's Book Week.
But children like 7-year-old Kevin Hammack weren't looking that far ahead. The second-grader, who was caughtreading "Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Dinosaur Bones," planned to go home and re-read his other Cam Jansen mystery. He is collectingthe books about a super-sleuth who has photographic memory.
"She has her own camera in her head," Kevin said. "It's neat!"