Tanya Darling's second-graders rushed from their desks to a patch of open floor in the back of her Courtade Elementary School classroom.
Their eyes swiveled toward me and stared expectantly at the colorful picture book in my hands.
"Tomatoes from Mars," I began, scanning the title.
The children hung on every word, even though they had heard the red-and-ripe alien invasion story before. (Spoiler: Basil, not bullets, saves the day.)
But a good book, like a good idea, is worth repeating.
Schools and libraries celebrate reading month in March, a bonanza for bookworms-in-training.
Darling marked the occasion by inviting daily visitors to her classroom. Guest readers showed up, shared a book and answered questions about their jobs and why reading is important.
The classroom hosted readers from the Coast Guard, sheriff's department, school district administration, parents and local media.
"They don't understand that someone on TV has to read (the prompter)," Darling said.
Even her alma mater mascot, Grand Valley State University's strong-jawed Louie the Laker, stopped by.
In our 20 minutes together, the students and I bonded over books. They wanted to know my favorites (as a schoolgirl: Nancy Drew mysteries, "Anne of Green Gables"); and I asked what they read (Harry Potter, "Tron").
Darling hopes the love of reading continues at home.
"Taking time to read to your children every day, even if it's just 15 minutes" is key, she said. "You're modeling. That is vital."
One of my best friends — an Illinois elementary school teacher, reading specialist and mom to a precocious preschooler — calls it imperative to expose kids to books and reading at an early age.
It's something longtime readers take for granted, but young brains must figure out "how books work," she says. As in: Those printed squiggles are letters, which form words, which contain meaning. Children need to learn how to hold a book and where to start reading on the page.
My friend recommends parents talk to their children about books and ask them to compare and contrast themes and explain characters and plots.
The Courtade second-graders seem to understand the importance and the pleasure of reading. One girl talked about how fun it is to sit in the sunny backyard with a good book as companion.
Add a plucky heroine like Nancy or Anne, and I'd say that's just about a perfect way to spend a day — whether you're 7 or 32.
Vanessa McCray can be reached at email@example.com.