Local Children’s Book Authors Bring DC to Life

Summer reading can be fun and promote learning

Courtney Davis and Rebecca Klemm (shown with children) are local authors of children’s books. 

When Elizabeth Jones, Metropolitan Police Department officer and grandmother, was with her grandson, Jack, last summer, “everytime we drove (down the 21st block of MLK Avenue) and would pass the Big Chair, he would shout, “chair, chair,” she said.

Jack knew the landmark’s name because of a children’s book, “A is for Anacostia,” written by Courtney Davis.

When DC author Rebecca Klemm made appearances last year at the Boys and Girls Club at Orr Elementary School on Minnesota Avenue, SE to tell kids about numbers, one boy liked a number so much he constantly carried a paper representation of it.

Children and parents view summer as a time for cookouts, trips, sports and play. It’s easy to forget about the importance of reading. School is out, but reading and learning should continue. Fortunately, Davis and Klemm provide children with a fun way to learn and tackle some negative stereotypes by flipping the scripts.

Having kids meet or attend talks by authors such as Davis and Klemm can ignite their interest in topics such as community, numbers, and African American history.

But these master storytellers have interesting backstories to share about their books and the impact they’ve had East of the River (EOTR).

Davis: Living Anacostia

“I’ve lived here 9 years. I have a stake in this community. I walk the streets, speak to people,” asserts Davis, an Anacostia resident, who expresses surprise that people sometimes wonder why she, a native of Chicago, is writing and speaking about Anacostia.

Davis sees herself as an unofficial goodwill ambassador for southeast DC. She sees plenty in Anacostia that kids and their parents can take pride in, ranging from the Frederick Douglass’ home to the vitality of the children. “The idea is to increase the morale,” she explains.

Davis also hopes to erase the negative views that kids and their parents in other neighborhoods often harbor about an area that frequently falls victim to drive by reporting by the news media highlighting local problems while largely ignoring the good. “(Her book’s purpose is also) to help break down the barriers between neighborhoods,” she explains. “Folks might not live in our community. We want to encourage them to visit.”

Growing up, Davis was influenced by the home her parents kept. It had plenty of reading material. Now, Davis, holder of a doctorate in special education, is following her mother’s career path by teaching in the public school system.

Her work provided the genesis for “A is for Anacostia.” Teaching in the area, Davis tried without success to find a children’s book about Anacostia.

“So I did what teachers do--I created it, figuring this would be an opportunity to teach the alphabet to children but also to have them focus on our community.”

Davis has been learning lots about Anacostia by promoting her book in appearances at libraries and schools.

“A is for Anacostia” is aimed at 3-6 year olds. Older kids can benefit by practicing reading it to their younger siblings and friends and learning more about rhyming.

In Elizabeth Jones’ mind, summer is a great time to read “A is for Anacostia” because kids can enjoy seeing each place that is mentioned in the book when the weather is nice.

Davis says when parents read books they are excited about to their child, it helps kindle a love of reading in the child. Jones possesses that enthusiasm. “In lieu of baby shower cards, I’ve bought “A is for Anacostia” to give to expectant mothers,” she says.

Numbers Can Be Fun

Like Davis, Dr. Rebecca Klemm is passionate about her mission. Stepping into her office downtown office even reality-centered adults might think they’ve stumbled down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. They’ll discover a new world populated by numbers come alive such as “number 7 -- the rogue.”

Though adults might consider this silly, it is really a smart way to connect kids to numbers.

Just as kids who know phonics and who read will be better able to handle more complex reading as they mature, kids who have basic number knowledge will do better at math and be better able to handle more complex calculations.

Klemm runs her own statistical consulting firm, the Klemm Analysis Group, and is the author of studies and analyses for clients such as the Department of Justice, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“But I’ve always been a storyteller,” says Klemm, who bills herself to children as the “Numbers Lady.” She wrote a play performed at the 2010 Capital Fringe Festival in which a girl learns about math while trying to bake chocolate chip cookies.

She was inspired to write her first book examining the relationship between numbers and DC when parents who saw the play asked her: “What would you do to keep my kid from hating math?”

Klemm’s “Numbers Alive! Books for Young Travelers: Washington, DC” book establishes the relevance of numbers: nine Supreme Court justices, the Pentagon has five sides, the Vietnam Memorial has two walls. “The learning takes place on many levels (besides math),” she says.

Plus, Klemm gives her colorful numbers personalities to make them more than “abstract symbols on a page” but rather “fun and friendly” characters.

Klemm road-tested her presentation for kids at the Boys and Girls Club at Orr Elementary School on Minnesota Avenue, SE.

Damion Parran, artistic administrator for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, says Klemm’s book and her personality were able to “connect with kids on a fun level and an educational level.”

Klemm’s Numbers Alive! website showcases her number characters. She’ll unveil soon a new book linking numbers to world cities and a series of books on individual numbers 0-9. A series slated for older readers will feature the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Squad led by Pi.

Klemm thinks summer is a great time to read her DC book. Her website includes a sample project kids can do, walking around their neighborhood taking pictures of objects such as a stop sign and identifying the numbers involved.

Klemm expects to have a table at the Anacostia Book Festival on Saturday, June 15 (rain date: June 16) 10-4 PM just off of 2100 MLK Avenue, SE at the corner of W Street, SE and Chicago St., SE.

Children and parents can learn and have fun from reading both books.

Why Summer Reading Matters

Research by University of Tennessee reading experts Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen indicates that parents who ensure their kids have access to books during the summer can maintain their children’s reading skills.

Eboni Curry, children’s librarian at the Anacostia library, says reading books like Davis’ and Klemm’s over the summer, even if only for 15 minutes daily, is important.

Curry urges EOTR parents to check out DC Public Library branches this summer.  Interesting programs are scheduled to spur learning and reading, including one to help kids start learning Spanish. 

Stephen Lilienthal is a freelance writer. Visit www.aisforanacostia.com/ and www.numbersalive.org/ and www.dclibrary.orgto learn about the books and the DC Public Library.

More about the Anacostia Book Festival at: www.lamontcarey.com

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