Some Christmas presents arrived a little early for first-graders in Kelly Schultheis' class at the Roanoke Avenue Elementary School in Riverhead as they sat on the floor in a corner of their room and listened to two visitors tell stories.
The guests came bearing the gift of reading -- including books in English and Spanish that were donated to Schultheis' 19 pupils. There also were stuffed bears -- a buddy to which each child can read.
Schultheis said in an age when online videos have replaced books as entertainment, she still encourages her class to read at home. But not all of her students have the same opportunities to do so. "Some families have more books than others," she said.
In the classroom, words and letters surrounded the children -- including instructional posters on what to look for when they read. Behind them were stacks of books in plastic bins, each with its own letter. The first book in the F bin was about festivals. The first in the M bin was the "Mystery of the Missing Dog."
Cheryl Taormina, owner and director of the private Riverhead Country Day School, sat in front, asking children one by one what kinds of things they could learn from books.
One girl said she could learn about tigers, a boy said monkeys, and others said sharks and lions and cheetahs and dinosaurs. Another boy, whose father works at Brookhaven National Laboratory, said "black hole."
Taormina was there because her private school has a wildly successful book fair every year, and brings in enough to have a surplus of books. Last year, she gave them to a class in the Riverhead Middle School.
Dioniser Rodriguez, who has a child at the private school, volunteered to come and read the Spanish version of the same books that Taormina read. She said one girl told her, "Now I have a book my mommy can read to me."
The last time Schultheis' class passed out its Scholastic Book Fair list, many children were interested, but only five of them brought in their order forms. Several of the books given out in her class were among the ones they wanted, including "If You Give a Pig a Pancake."
Aeden Pharr, 6, the child who said you can learn about black holes in books, took time out from eating cookies during recess to explain, "They can suck a lot of planets in." But there was no need to worry because they were miles and miles away, he added.
He said that having stories read to the class was fun, and that he also reads at home.
Taormina said that while she also reads at home, being in class and reading to the children was fun as well.
"I used to teach," she said. "This is amazing. Reading is important to me."
Among the books read at Roanoke Avenue were:
"If You Give a Pig a Pancake" / "Si Le Das un Panqueque a una Cerdita" and "If You Take a Mouse to School" / "Si Llevas Un Ratón a La Escuela", both by Laura Numeroff
The books in Spanish given out were:
"Knut: La historia del osito polar que cautivó al mundo entero" (Knut: How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World) by Dr. Gerald Uhlich, and "Si Le Das una Rosquilla a un Perro" ("If You Give a Dog a Doughnut") by Laura Numeroff
The books in English given out were:
"Pinkalicious" and "Goldilicious," both by Gloria Kan, and "Curious George" by H. A. Rey