Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reading Program Seeks to Foster Discussion, Curb Violence

By Tamara Best

Books offer a perfect way to help people escape.

Now, one local writer hopes to use them to foster discussions among children about issues in the community.

Angelica Harris, a Glendale resident, is beginning “The Excalibur Reading Program” in conjunction with several local organizations.

“If I can use reading and positive heroes to create a voice, it creates a way to open up their hearts and minds, find their own voice and bring them into the arts in the same way,” Harris said.

Though aimed at all children, the program is specifically targeted towards those with impoverished means and those with special needs.

Harris, who is a writing coach and author of three books, said she first got the idea after talking to a friend. It later came to fruition after a conversation with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D- Middle Village).

“She said, ‘you have such a beautiful, innovative idea for the community,’ and after that we formally met and decided to start it,” Harris said. “They loved my idea of taking the characters from books as a way to get children to read and discuss other issues.”

Funding for the program is being provided by Crowley’s office, TD Bank, Astoria Federal Savings Bank and Amnesty International.

The program will be held at A Place to Dance on 69th Street in Maspeth on Thursdays from 4 to 5:30 for children ages 3 to 5 and Fridays from 3 to 5 p.m. for 6 to 10 year olds through the summer and fall.

In an effort to start dialogue about community issues, Harris said she makes the reading interactive. Children choose which character they would like to be, holding a picture of them while the book is read while taking on the persona of their respective character.

“Children are learning through the voice of the characters to enjoy the book,” she said. “They’re not just sitting down and listening, they are part of the story through the character.”

After the reading, Harris prompts the children with questions about statements made
by and between the different characters and have a discussion on everything from friendship to violence.

Harris, a survivor of domestic violence, said having conversations with children at young ages is crucial to breaking the silence often associated with violent and abusive situations.

“Even children of domestic violence need to learn to recognize warning signs and other harmful behaviors.”

Harris said she hopes to eventually start a similar group for older teens.

For details, contact Harris at

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