This article originally appeared in The Beacon-News
By Amy Roth
Robby Savoie is a first-year teacher at Edna Rollins Elementary School on Aurora’s East Side. He teaches a class of about 30 fourth- and fifth-graders. So to say the least, he has his hands full.
And yet, when a writing contest sponsored by Aurora Public Library was announced, he decided his class would be “all in.”He gathered his students around a copy of the wordless book “Sidewalk Circus,” by Paul Fleischman and Kevin Hawkes, and got their brains cranking about how they could best fill in the blanks around the pictures.
“At first, my students wanted to write their own stories, but then they decided it would be better to work as a group,” he said during a shindig for his class, which ended up winning the contest.
The students won a circus-themed party at their school complete with popcorn, cookies, juice, tattoos, stickers and a bingo game with books for prizes.
Madeleine Bradford, 10, won the top prize in the home-school contest. Madeleine, a fifth-grader, studied the book in the library with her mom and took notes so she could work on the project at home.
Madeleine’s prize was tickets to the Steel Beam Theatre of St. Charles. Both Savoie’s class and Madeleine won a copy of the book signed by author Paul Fleischman.
Thirteen entries were turned in.
Savoie’s class decided to rhyme the story, which is a tale of how a town’s workers and citizens make up their own colorful “circus.” It begins:
“On a sunny day
A mustached man
Was standing and holding
A poster in his hand
“A young girl in yellow
As bright as the sun
Read a sign that said
Soon a circus will come”
Savoie said the class worked long and hard on the story.
“I love poetry,” Savoie said. “I think they got excited because I was excited.”
Savoie said he views poems as math problems or puzzles that the writer needs to figure out how to put together.
To aid in the process, Savoie said three helpers emerged: the speller, Michael Martinez, fifth grade; the rhymer, Rosa Trejo, fourth grade; and the scribe, Stephanie Galindo, fourth grade.
“It was cool how kids took on different roles,” Savoie said. “Michael ended up with a dictionary in his lap most of the time.”
“We backed into the poem. We looked at the pictures and decided what words could go with it. Then we determined what rhyming words went with those words. That was the way we solved the puzzle.”
Savoie said that growing up, he struggled with reading.
“In the fourth grade, my teacher … gave me a copy of ‘A Light in the Attic,’ by Shel Silverstein. She actually bought it for me. She said, ‘I think you will enjoy reading this.’ So I started with the short poems in the beginning, and by the end, I was reading the longer ones.”
Rollins Learning Center aide Lucie Groleske said she received the book from the library and thought it was a fantastic opportunity for the kids.
“Any time they can use their imagination and do some creative writing, it’s fantastic,” she said.
Home-school student Madeleine said she doesn’t usually read books without words, but that the contest interested her.
Her story began this way:
“I walk down the usually boring street on my way to the bus stop, but this time it’s not boring at all; there’s a man standing on the sidewalk with a wagon full of papers. The man looks like a ringmaster, and the wagon says ‘Garibaldi Circus’ on it. I think the man is putting up posters for the circus. I wonder what it’ll be like…”
“I normally read chapter books,” Madeleine said. “My favorite author is Erin Hunter. I love the series’ she writers: ‘Warriors,’ ‘Seekers’ and ‘Survivors.’”
Madeleine said she used to judge books by their covers, but she “doesn’t do that anymore.”
And if a book is 300 or 500 pages, that doesn’t bother her.
“I read a 500-page book in about a week and can read two or three 300-page books in a week.”
The contest, made possible in part through a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Illinois General Assembly, was open to all third-through-fifth graders in Aurora. Each elementary school, public and private, received a copy of the book and instructions about how to enter.
Amy Roth is the public information manager for the Aurora Public Library.