Promoting literacy and emphasizing the importance of teaching children to read at an early age is serious business.
But watching Miss Nikki and Miss Anastasia, two avid story readers who enthrall their young audiences, is more likely to be an adventure in laughter and having a good time — even as they accomplish the vital goal of encouraging reading.
Anastasia McKenna, a former elementary school teacher, has been holding kids spellbound at libraries and bookstores in her unique, lively style for 14 years. Nikki Young, an acting coach from Alamo Heights in her first year as a professional reader, takes her puppets and her parents' dog, Readmore Books, to private parties and elementary schools to show kids the fun in reading.
Kids enjoy each of the reader's unique styles.
“It's the most wonderful experience,” said Young, also known as The Literature Lady. “I know that I was born to work with kids. I think of it as edu-tainment.”
McKenna is equally enthusiastic about her craft.
“Technology is wonderful, but there's just nothing like holding a book,” McKenna said.
Young, a visual and performing arts teacher at Monarch Academy, part of Morgan's Wonderland, has long been drawn to reading, performing and working with children.
Reyna said Young's teddy bear-themed party was a success and word quickly spread. “I never dreamed that this would interest her,” Reyna said. “It was just so good.”
She said Young was able to pinpoint the shy children and encourage them to be helpers and enjoy the show.
Reyna said that partygoers left with arms full of books they had checked out at the library. “They were so into it,” she said. “It was incredible.”
Young said she's hopeful that her recent popularity means the community is ready for change. “It's exciting,” she said. “What that means to me is that people are looking for something to encourage literacy.”
Young now has a twice-monthly show, “Toddler Tuesdays,” with her Party Time Puppets at Inflatable Wonderland's two locations, Wonderland of the Americas and Rolling Oaks Mall.
McKenna has logged more than 3,000 performances as Miss Anastasia. Her story started 14 years ago, when she was living in Austin, working at an independent bookstore and as an elementary school teacher. Then she and her husband move to San Antonio in 2000, and she soon became a spokeswoman for the Twig Book Shop, a former Alamo Heights landmark now located at The Pearl on the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk
Admittedly, it's not easy to get children interested in reading, said the mom of three. The most important thing is finding the right book to put in their hands — something that will pique the child's interest, she said.
Today, McKenna reads at the Twig Book Shop every Friday morning as well as other venues to help encourage reading. She also has shared her techniques on how to read to children to make books more interesting, addressing a state Technology, Entertainment and Design event that can be seen online at http://tedxsanantonio.com/2013-speakers/anastasia-mckenna
Young, too, seeks to help adults make reading a habit at home. Through a partnership with Subzero Ice Cream and Yogurt, kids who attend Miss Nikki's shows take the Readmore pledge to read at least 20 minutes every day for 20 days and get a special bookmark to keep track of their progress.
Once the bookmark is filled in it can be turned in at the newly opened ice cream store at Bitters and 281 for a free kid's ice cream.