The Life-Saving Magic of a Well-Told Tale

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Tara Adornetto in one of her favorite roles: a member of the Mom Squad

“Love you, Mommy, to the moon and back,” reads the gift tag attached to a framed print of the Velveteen Rabbit. Under the Rabbit are these words, “Once you are real, you can’t become unreal again. IT LASTS FOR ALWAYS.”

Tara Adornetto’s youngest daughter, Lili, gifted her with that print this Christmas. It’s a testimony to the strong love in Tara’s family. That’s a love that is expressed in words, and that is anchored in Tara’s deep love of books.

Tara coordinates Tech Prep at Zane State College in Zanesville, Ohio. She is a gifted, student-centered professional, and this job, a new position for her, gives her the chance to work directly with students. Tara believes in the transformative power of education. It’s a power that has propelled her down a successful, but not always easy, path.

When Tara was in fourth grade she was betrayed and deeply scarred by an adult relative. The abuse left her feeling isolated, ashamed, and dirty. It tore her once-close family apart. Ten years old, she searched for comfort, consolation, and support. She found all three in books.

“I was always searching for that knight in white armor,” Tara, that lover of story, says now. She found that kind of valiant support in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, the CS Lewis classic about displaced children who discover their own amazing potential. And she found it in real life, too, in the support of her brother, who discovered Tara’s abuse and revealed her abuser.

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Grownup siblings Tara and Brian

Throughout her life, Tara says, those knights have always shown up when she needed them. Her brother, of course. Her husband Anthony, who was at her side through medical procedures that addressed the long-term physical effects of her abuse. Supervisors who saw her potential and pushed her to go farther. Friends who encouraged her dreams.

And always,  the books she needed arrived when she needed them, too.

If she had to pick a home-run book, Tara says, it would be The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Kate Di Camillo’s story of an expensive toy rabbit who is ripped from his posh home and sent out into a rough, often unwelcoming, world buoyed her as a child. Edward was a survivor. Tara was, too, and the book has great meaning for her. It is one of the many books she shared with her daughters, Ava and Lili, as they were growing up.

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Like the Velveteen Rabbit, Edward was scarred and dirtied, patched and abandoned. But his experiences made him very, very real, and allowed him to grow into a loving and compassionate creature.

Shel Silverstein had a voice that Tara loved to hear. Her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, read the class poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends, little by little, each day. Tara would wait for the reading time, soaking in Silverstein’s words. His humor, even though it was sometimes tinged with darkness, lifted the darkness for her. (She found that same kind of humor in the poem “Ladies and Jellyspoons,” which she can still recite verbatim today. Silverstein’s story book, The Giving Tree, taught Tara, she says now, about “the power to heal.”

Tara’s parents didn’t have much money; her mother had to leave school to care for her family, and always felt badly that she couldn’t help her children with their homework. But she encouraged them, Tara remembers, to travel far beyond where she herself had been able to go.

Her mom always made sure Tara had books to read. They went to the library regularly, and whenever there was a little extra money, Tara’s mother bought books to add to her daughter’s library. Her grandmother, too, would scout out books at yard sales and at thrift stores. Some of their finds became stories that wove themselves into Tara’s life,–stories that she would share with her own daughters years later, and that she recommends to others.

Those books include…

The Key to the Treasure by Peggy Parish. In this book, siblings Liza, Bill, and Ted solve a family mystery when they summer with their grandparents. They unravel clues and face danger, and they emerge triumphant.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Mary Lennox survives the death of her parents and a long journey to stay with relatives she’s never met, and finds her way to friendship, joy, and meaning.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by EG Speare, is the story of another orphaned traveler. Kit is older than Mary, old enough to be considered a grownup, when her grandfather dies. She leaves her home in Barbados to travel to Connecticut and find the aunt she’s never met.

The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, was a story that Tara’s beloved teacher, Nancy Corbett, read to her class. Tara loved the story, and the magic and the faith it involved. Years later, Mrs. Corbett, knowing how much the story meant to her, gave Tara the book—the same copy she’d read to the class years before, complete with its own magical jingle bell.

All the stories she loved, Tara realizes, involved courage and the overcoming of obstacles.  Good things didn’t always happen to the protagonists, but they never gave up. Their brave efforts paid off as they battled their ways to happy lives.

It’s no surprise that Tara loves that kind of book; that’s her own story. A child who never gave up, a devoted wife and mother, a professional who insures the students she works with get the support and inspiration they need to succeed, Tara is a real-life hero.

And her story is a testimony to the power that books can bring to a child’s life, even when bad things happen. It tells us about the role that words can play in helping a valiant child find the support and faith she needs to overcome the darkness…to become real, with all the joy and sorrow and mystery that entails.

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Handing it Down: A Love of Books Through the Generations

Meet Alexandra Kinney, who writes, I am a stay at home mom and have been married for five years to my husband Joshua. We also welcomed our daughter earlier this year!

“Even though I had trouble learning how to read I can’t remember a time I wasn’t a bookworm! Still to this day I have a hard time putting a book down once I start it.” 

This busy new mom makes time, every night, to share a book with her baby.


Alexandra, or Alex, became a lifelong reader because her mom would read to her and her siblings every night before they went to bed. “We always were able to pick what book we wanted to hear that night,” Alex says. “When I got older, Mom would always take me to the library to pick out a book.”

Alex grew to love reading so much that she read anywhere and every second she could. She loved hearing books read aloud, too, especially when her mom would read Piggie Pie in different voices. [Want to know more about Piggie Pie? You can read about it from Alex’s mom’s point of view here:

Alex carries on what has become a family tradition. She reads Piggie Pie and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to her baby girl, Edison, every night before the baby drifts off to dreamland.

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In fact, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr., and John Archambault,  is Alex’s home run book. Alex loves this book, with its personality-filled, rhyming, alphabet characters,  because it make the ABC’s fun.

Five other books that Alex thinks should be prominent on every child’s bookshelf are these:

1. Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish, because they are funny;

  1. Piggie Pie by Margie Palatini: What’s not to love about pigs dressing up as other animals to fool the witch;


  1. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein;


  1. Jewel Kingdom books by Jahnna N. Malcolm: always a new adventure;


  1. The Harry Potter books by J.K.Rowling: They are exciting, take us on many adventures, and they emphasize the importance—and magic!— of friendship.

It looks like Edison has a lot of reading to look forward to with her mom. And, we suspect, there will be another generation of reading aloud, years from now, when Edison starts her own family…


A Pinch of Magic and Seven Servings of Imagination

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Meet nine-year-old Samuel Rietzke,  a confirmed reader who’s in Grade 4. His mom, Autumn Knisely, writes:

Sam loved to be read to as an infant/ toddler and learned to read at an early age. He would pretend to read well before he could actually read. He has a wonderful imagination telling the story based on the photos in the book. He’s loved getting into book series such as Harry Potter and House of Robots. Some of his other favorites have been Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Charlotte’s Web, and A Cricket in Times Square.

Once he starts a book, he has a hard time putting it away. You’ll see him reading in the car wherever we go, carrying his book through the grocery store; he pulls it out in class after he finishes assignments and is waiting for others to get done. He also loves to write short stories in his spare time. His second-grade teacher, Mrs. Lisa Davoli, would let him create books in his free time, and he created an entire little series over his second-grade year. He says he hopes to publish a book or two eventually!

Read on to find out about the books that really ignited Samuel’s imagination.



What book is your homerun book? Why does this book mean so much to you?

I don’t have a homerun book, more a series…Harry Potter. After our class read the first book, I’ve been reading the entire series. The book means so much to me because it opened up my imagination.


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Tell us how you came to be a lifelong reader. Was there a person who influenced you? Did you have a teacher or a librarian who encouraged you?

I’ve had a bit of influence with Harry Potter and other books through Mrs. Ross, my third-grade teacher, and that made me read more and more.

What is your favorite place to read and when do you make the time for reading?

My favorite place to read is in bed. I make time for reading at bedtime on road trips.

If you could pick five books that should be on every child’s bookshelf, what would those books be? And, why?

  • Dr. Seuss’s ABC’s, for the younger kids to learn their alphabet
  • At least one JK Rowling book; they really open up the imagination
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: ABC’s in a funny way
  • Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? For colors
  • What Do You Do With A Tail Like This? For adapting

What’s your favorite read-aloud book?

I don’t ever really read aloud, but Mom is my favorite reader. 

Do you have a favorite library?

It’s Kaubisch Memorial Library. They always have a summer reading program.

What else would you like to add on the topic of books and reading?

Books allow you to know interesting facts and other things. I didn’t know about a home-run book until I learned about it here.


A Quiet Spot and a Stack of Books

Meet lifelong reader, Kelly Sterling, who writes…

I’ve been married to Tim for 13 years, and I have four step children. And we just welcomed our first grandson.

I have been the pastor at Van Buren United Methodist Church for two years. Prior to that I was the associate pastor for eight years at St. Mark’s in Findlay.

I’ve loved reading since I could read! Books now play a part in my Sabbath time, when I read not only the Bible but other spiritual books. Reading fiction is my relaxation time, and my ideal vacation includes a fireplace and or pool and a book or two!

If I was not working as a pastor, I would probably be working as a librarian somewhere, preferably at an elementary school watching kids light up by the magic of books!

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Pastor Kelly Sterling and her new grandson

My home run book is On The Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

My favorite teacher, Miss Boucher, introduced the entire Little House series to my third grade class, reading to us from On the Banks of Plum Creek. She told us a television show was coming out based on the book! I fell in love with the books and the show. Christmas of my third grade year I received the entire Little House series. I had that collection up until recently when it was destroyed in a flood we had in our basement.


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Since the time I learned how, I have loved reading. I loved going to the library as a kid, and practiced signing my name in cursive over and over. Once I mastered it, my mom said I could get my own library card; that was a proud day!

I would say my third grade teacher, Miss Boucher, encouraged reading. But I do also recall in junior high school having a mandatory 15 or 20-minute time where we had to read. No sleeping, no homework: you had to read a book or magazine.

Many of my friends hated this time, but I loved it. I can remember sitting in Miss Demerit’s English room. I was in the last row second to last seat, next to the windows. (When your last name is Sterling, usually you are in the back row.)

It was a wonderful part of the day for me. I don’t think this required reading time has been part of the school curriculum for a long time, but I think it should be. Not only does it encourage better reading skills, but it’s a nice break to relax and just let your brain go elsewhere for a little while.

Now, I mostly read in bed just before sleep. But, I love going on vacation because, to me, vacation includes reading…on the plane, at the hotel, or wherever lodging may be. My perfect vacation is a quiet spot and a stack of books.

I like to read at the library; something about being surrounded by all the books and other people who love words makes it even more enjoyable.

As a kid, I liked to read on the front porch. My house could be rather hectic at times and noisy, so that was a spot I could find quiet and peace.

Here are the books I’d recommend to every child:

The Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Stone: so fun to read and hear.

Curious George, by H.A. Rey and Margaret Rey: monkeys and mischief…what is there not to love?

Something by Laura Ingalls : history, faith and family wrapped up in a series

The Bible: Everyone needs a Bible; even if you are not a believer, the Bible is great reading!

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats: the illustrations are incredible and the story sticks with you.

And…I  need to add one more: Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. Here, young readers will find unconditional love, responsibility, and grief.

My favorite book to read aloud is one of the above: The Monster at the End of this Book.I loved it as a kid; I own it still; and I will read it to my grandkids some day.

My favorite library is the Wood County library; there are several little nooks and crannies to hide and read. And there’s no such thing as a bad book store…but one of my favorite is a used book store attached to the library in Fountain Hills, Arizona. It is a well-to-do retirement community, and books are donated to this tiny bookstore, but they are current, barely-used, beautiful hard back books I get for a great price,…plus the money goes back to the library.

Reading, to me, is an escape. It is a way to shut off the “to do list” in my mind and go to another time, place, or even, sometimes, world. Words to me are art; how writers tie those words together and create images and emotions is as beautiful to me as a painting or sculpture.


To find out more about First Step’s initiative to help every kid find her or his own home-run book, or for information on any of First Step’s programs, please contact us:

Address: P.O. Box 1103 Fostoria, OH 44830

Office Phone: 419.435.7300



A Spider for a Hero, and a Pig for a Friend

Anyway, the theme of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

—EB White


First Step’s Home Run Bloggers love Charlotte’s Web.

Ann Boyd fell in love with the gracious, pugnacious arachnid when she was a fifth grader, and her teacher, Miss Kennedy, read the book to her class.

Third grade teacher and mom Amanda Ross says, “Charlotte’s Web is the perfect book for young readers.”

Claudia Benjamin, who teaches in Hancock County and Findlay, says the books is a must read to, and for, kids.

Librarian Tara Bahnsen agrees.

The list goes on and on: Charlotte’s Web is a much-loved classic. Some of us have been known to get red-eyed, to have to enunciate around swollen, chokey throat-lumps, as we try to read the end of the story aloud.

And when you think about it,–well, we’re getting very emotional about the death of a SPIDER.

A spider who was best buds with a pig.

And let’s face it, spiders and pigs,–well, they don’t win popularity contests in our society.

How did EB White come to write a book with such unlikely heroes, a book that would turn out to be a classic, savored and shared for generations to come? did some research. They share a letter from EB White, who, when asked, “Why a book about a spider?” had a whole lot to say.

Read his words, taken from, below.


White made notes on web-spinning while he was writing about Charlotte and Wilbur.

(Image, featured in 1994’s The Annotated Charlotte’s Web, taken from

“I have been asked to tell how I came to write ‘Charlotte’s Web’ [writes White]. Well, I like animals, and it would be odd if I failed to write about them. Animals are a weakness with me, and when I got a place in the country I was quite sure animals would appear, and they did.

“A farm is a peculiar problem for a man who likes animals, because the fate of most livestock is that they are murdered by their benefactors. The creatures may live serenely but they end violently, and the odor of doom hangs about them always. I have kept several pigs, starting them in spring as weanlings and carrying trays to them all through summer and fall. The relationship bothered me. Day by day I became better acquainted with my pig, and he with me, and the fact that the whole adventure pointed toward an eventual piece of double-dealing on my part lent an eerie quality to the thing. I do not like to betray a person or a creature, and I tend to agree with Mr. E.M. Forster that in these times the duty of a man, above all else, is to be reliable. It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

“As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago. Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else — the world is really loaded with them. I do not find them repulsive or revolting, any more than I find anything in nature repulsive or revolting, and I think it is too bad that children are often corrupted by their elders in this hate campaign. Spiders are skilful, amusing and useful, and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.

“One cold October evening I was lucky enough to see Aranea Cavatica spin her egg sac and deposit her eggs. (I did not know her name at the time, but I admired her, and later Mr. Willis J. Gertsch of the American Museum of Natural History told me her name.) When I saw that she was fixing to become a mother, I got a stepladder and an extension light and had an excellent view of the whole business. A few days later, when it was time to return to New York, not wishing to part with my spider, I took a razor blade, cut the sac adrift from the underside of the shed roof, put spider and sac in a candy box, and carried them to town. I tossed the box on my dresser. Some weeks later I was surprised and pleased to find my dresser. Some weeks later I was surprised and pleased to find that Charlotte’s daughters were emerging from the air holes in the cover of the box. They strung tiny lines from my comb to my brush, from my brush to my mirror, and from my mirror to my nail scissors. They were very busy and almost invisible, they were so small. We all lived together happily for a couple of weeks, and then somebody whose duty it was to dust my dresser balked, and I broke up the show.

“At the present time, three of Charlotte’s granddaughters are trapping at the foot of the stairs in my barn cellar, where the morning light, coming through the east window, illuminates their embroidery and makes it seem even more wonderful than it is.

“I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze.”


To find out more about First Step’s initiative to help every kid find her or his own home-run book, or for information on any of First Step’s programs, please contact us:

Address: P.O. Box 1103 Fostoria, OH 44830

Office Phone: 419.435.7300




A Joy Passed Down: Reading and the Griffins

Meet mom and daughter, Lindsey and Peyton Griffin. Lindsey, who works as an insurance agent at the Roger Smith Insurance Agency, serves as a director on First Step’s board, and her talented daughter, 11 year-old Peyton, taught a Slimeology class for the organization’s Enrichment series last June.

Peyton’s dad, Ryan Griffin,  works at Charter Steel.  Her brother Zendon  recently graduated with a Bachelors degree in accounting from BGSU and is working on his masters. The Griffin family loves to travel and camp; they combine that with their commitment to helping others. (On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, the Griffins toted along three extra suitcases. That extra luggage was full of school supplies, which they hand-delivered to kids who needed them.)

The Griffins in NV

The traveling Griffins in Nova Scotia: Zendon, Lindsey, Peyton, and Ryan.

Lindsey and Peyton have many other interests, and a powerful one they share is the love of a wonderful book. Read on to learn about their home run books and the people and places who’ve helped to weave a love of literature into their lives.

What book is your homerun book? Why does this book mean so much to you?

Peyton: I love the Haunted Museum series by Suzanne Weyn; it’s very realistic and also has a bunch of cool, fun facts.

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Lindsey: Most recently, my home run book is Refugee By Alan Gratz. Although this is a children’s book, there is a lot to be learned from it. It tells the story of three refugee children and their struggles to find safety. The three children are fictional, but their stories are based on real events.

          I think it’s easy for people to distance themselves from world issues like the refugee problem. Only when we begin to educate ourselves on others’ struggles are we able to put ourselves in others’ shoes. This book dos just that. It helps you to believe that we are all just people. More bridges, fewer walls!

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Tell us how you came to be a lifelong reader. Was there a person who influenced you as a child? Did you have a teacher or a librarian who encouraged you?

 Peyton: My whole family reads, especially my mom and brother. My mom encouraged me to read, and now I love to read.

Lindsey: My dad influenced me to read. He is a reader and I imagine I picked up this habit from him.

 What is your favorite place to read and when do you make the time for reading?

Peyton: It doesn’t matter where I read, especially if I have a good book, as long as it’s quiet. I mostly read at home in my bedroom.

Lindsey: I have always read before bedtime. I find it a good way to unwind from the day.

If you could pick five books that should be on every child’s bookshelf, what would those books be? And, why?


  • The Haunted Museum series by Suzanne Weyn: I love scary books, and these are very intense.
  • Smile & Ghost, by Raina Telgemeier: I like Smile & Ghost because they have the same characters. I felt like I knew the characters in each of the books.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein: I love these poems! The poems are super funny. My mom introduced me to this book before I could read.
  • Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sachar: This book has a lot of mystery to it and was very interesting.
  • A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron: This book reminded me of my dog, Mercedes. I liked the happy ending. It was fun to watch the movie and then read the book.

Lindsey: Besides Refugee by Alan Gratz, I agree with Peyton. I strongly recommend Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein!

What’s your favorite read-aloud book?

Peyton: My favorite read-aloud is kid Bible stories. Me, my mom, and my dad take turns reading aloud before we go to bed sometimes.

Lindsey: I love reading Where the Sidewalk Ends with Peyton and short children’s Bible stories.

Do you have a favorite library?

Peyton: I love going to Kaubisch Library with my mom. I really like the summer reading program that they have for kids. I started going to the library with my mom before I could read.

Lindsey: Peyton and I have always taken trips to Kaubisch. I used to push her stroller there before she could walk.

What else would you like to add on the topic of books and reading?

Peyton: I want to add that my favorite reading partner is Mercedes, my dog. I read with her a lot when I’m in bed.


Sharing the Love of a Good Story

Meet Amanda Ross, who writes…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a teacher. When it was time to decide what I wanted to do after high school, I knew I wanted to attend college to study education. I attended BGSU where I met my husband.

After college, we got married and moved to the Toledo area. I worked at WSOS Community Action Commission as a Preschool Supervisor, then as a Substitute Teacher, and then I took my current position as a third grade teacher. Since then, I’ve become a Mom and I have been diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer.

This will be my seventh year teaching third grade, and I have loved every minute of it. My absolute favorite part of teaching third grade has been introducing new books and book series to students and having them fall in love with reading.

Read on to find out about Amanda’s home run book and her history as a reader.

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Amanda Ross and her family

My homerun book is The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. This book was given to me by my mom when I was 6, and I remember reading it with her before bedtime and just falling in love with all the characters in the story.

My mom encouraged me to read at an early age. She was a single mom, but every night she made time to read with me for at least 30 minutes before I went to bed.

I love to read outside. A hammock is my favorite, but I will settle for anywhere outdoors. I love to have an iced coffee and just get lost in a good book. When I was a kid, I would just curl up anywhere as long as I had a warm blanket to snuggle with!

You want me to choose only FIVE books to recommend that kids read? That is hard! It really depends on ages of kids.

I think I would start with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. It is a staple- every child needs to read this fun book as a kid!

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is just such a magical book that every kid needs to be introduced to at some point. I have seen kids who hate reading fall in love with this series so many times.

Charlotte’s Web, by EB White, is the perfect book for young kids and covers so many topics! I love the great discussions you can have along with this book.

Wonder, by RJ Palacio, has become one of my FAVORITE stories and is a must read for every kid. It teaches such great lessons and the kids really have enjoyed it.

Karen Beaumont’s I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More is such a fun, silly book. Children love reading it again and again.

My favorite read aloud in my third grade classroom is Roald Dahl’s The BFG . I love that the character makes the kids think and really decipher what he is talking about using context clues in the story. At home, I love to read to my son. We love silly books like Pete the Cat (Eric Litwin) and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Mo Willems). I love to get into character and have different voices for the characters so they really come alive!

I live in Tiffin, so I love the Seneca County Library and take my son there often! They have awesome programming and just got a beautiful facelift. They have games, toys, and lots of other interesting things to keep kids engaged for hours!

Reading is so important and so fun! I encourage all kids to read for at least 20 minutes a day to keep their minds moving and working!