WOLCOTT — Luke Lehman picked up a copy of the latest “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book lying on a nearby table and opened it with anticipation.
Then he promptly placed his nose into it.
“I’ve never smelled that before,” he said after taking a big whiff.
Lehman’s sixth-grade classmate, Grace Tyler, seemed a bit surprised by the admission while taking the book from him and getting a sniff.
“That’s like the first thing I do when I get a new book,” she said.
Another classmate, Alayna Hrnicek, followed suit, placing the book up to her nose. She then sported a satisfied look on her face.
“That was awesome,” she said. “It’s like the best smell ever.”
“You’ve never smelled that before?” Mandy Taulman, their teacher at Tri-County Intermediate, asked.
“Nooooo,” Hrnicek said.
“And it smelled so good, didn’t it?” Taulman asked. “That’s part of the love for reading, too. You get it, smell it and then read it.”
That new-book odor is one of many things Taulman has introduced to her digital-savvy students. She’s bringing a love for reading the old-fashioned way back into the classroom.
Her students have access to hundreds, if not thousands, of books, a subscription to the Herald Journal print edition of the newspaper and other reading material.
“The newspaper idea came from one of the books we were reading as we were doing research using obituaries,” Taulman said. “We’re always trying to find ways to create a love of reading. In my classroom, I get the privilege of teaching all sixth graders for half a day.”
Taulman said her students can read anything they wish in her classroom. Some students read newspapers while others check out the farm and grain report. Others read books as research for FFA projects.
As long as they read “authentic.”
“One thing leads to another,” she said. “Reading the book ‘Twerp’ led to them reading ‘Finding the Worm.’ It wasn’t me telling them they had to read it; they wanted it. They thought it out. It’s choosing it, having a choice and loving it because they have that choice. It’s authentic.”
While the class is proficient with, and has access to, digital books, it’s not used much.
“When we do have the digital stuff, we have the book with us so we can follow along,” Lehman said.
In fact, all the students said they preferred an old-fashioned book in their hand as opposed to reading books on a digital device.
“I like being able to always take a book with me because electronics can die; paperback books cannot,” Tyler said. “It can always go everywhere with you and you can have as many of them as you want.
“I have about 100 (books),” she added. “I’m trying to get rid of some.”
Lehman said he also prefers paperback books.
“It just feels more comfortable than reading a digital screen,” he said. “There’s also the screen time — my parents are against that.”
Zack Bramlett said he recently acquired a love for reading this year. During the summer, he visited the Wolcott library about twice per week to pick up new books.
“I prefer paperback because it’s way easier to read than digital,” he said. “For me, I like actually flipping the pages and reading. I like to read random topics. I really love reading now.”
When a shipment of new books arrives in her classroom, Taulman said she tries to make the experience as fun and interesting as possible.
“We had a shipment from Scholastic with a message on it that said ‘Urgent: Open Immediately,’” she said. “It was the new release of ‘A Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball.’ One book order we wrapped as Christmas presents, so the kids excitedly unwrapped it. We have thousands of books in our classroom. We read all kinds of things.”
Many of the books in the classroom are those Taulman has purchased on her own dime.
“The ‘Finding the Worm’ book, I ended up buying eight copies because so many kids were wanting to read it,” she said. “I didn’t want them to wait and forget about it. It’s about finding what they love and going with it, not giving them time to forget about it. I want them to have all the reading material right there.”
“There are a lot of books available that I want to be reading right now,” Lehman politely interjected. “I read whatever interests me.”
Taulman succinctly summed up her objective in 10 words.
“We just want kids to read — read and love it.”