Ann Takata loves a good book.
In fact, she loves a great many good books.
The avid reader and book collector and mother and grandmother has taken her passion for literature outside the library, though.
Takata best known as "Grandma Ann" or "Miss Ann" spends several hours a week volunteering in Kenai-area elementary schools, sharing stories with children of all ages.
"It's fun," she said. "It's a loving, sharing thing ... . And it's another thing to volunteer your talents for the enrichment of yourself and them. I hope I'm enriching their lives."
Takata, a mother of six now-grown children, has been in and out of the classroom for the past 25 years. She started when her third child was in kindergarten at Sears Elementary School.
"He went into kindergarten reading at a fifth-grade level and his teacher thought I might have had something to do with that," Takata recalled.
Indeed, Takata said she read to all her children. But her own love of literature goes even further back.
"My dad read to me," she said. "It's my dad's voice that comes back, when I start reading things he read to me as a kid."
And, she credits a high school teacher for some of her passion, as well.
In high school, Takata signed up for a contemporary American literature course and was teased by her peers, because the teacher of the class was known for being "horrible," she said.
Photo by Jenni Dillon
"She made us stand up in front of the class and do book reports over and over again," she said. "And she made us read things like Steinbeck."
While most students disliked the class, Takata said the readings opened doors to a whole new brand of literature for her. And, she said, the practice of speaking in front of her peers is what allows her to stand in front of a class of students today.
"She had the whip out," Takata said of her former high school teacher. "She was not your favorite teacher. But she kind of was."
It was in high school that Takata began collecting books, and her collection has only grown since.
"I move, and I'll leave my furniture, but take my books," she said, laughing.
Her collection of children's books illustrated and autographed by Alaska artist Shannon Cartwright is on display in Mountain View Elementary School's entryway, and she uses most of her own collection to read to students at area schools.
Presently, Takata is spending at least eight hours a week in the classroom and even more preparing at home. This spate of volunteering started a couple years ago with her granddaughter's second-grade class at Sears Elementary School, where Takata continues to make occasional appearances.
She followed her granddaughter to Mountain View Elementary School and Dave Knudsen's third-grade class last year and was asked by Knudsen to stay. She did, but also added her granddaughter's fourth-grade class, with John and Bernie Wensley, to her list of venues.
In addition, Takata occassionally reads to children in day care and coaches Mountain View's fourth- and fifth-grade Battle of the Books team.
Takata said she tries to keep things lively and varied in her various classroom appearances. She's reading different books to each class and makes an effort to integrate other lessons with the stories.
For example, on Monday she was reading "The Cuckoo Child," by Dick King-Smith to the Wensleys' classes.
The story, similar in theme to "The Ugly Duckling," though about a misplaced ostrich instead of a swan, has several science lessons embedded in the story, she said.
She tries to research the topic of each story to anticipate questions the students might have.
"I have to find information on the subject, because I got caught once," she said. Now, she brings nonfiction books and related fiction books to augment the stories she's reading, as well as computer print-outs, posters and artifacts related to the story.
On Monday, a student brought in an emu egg, somewhat similar to what the ostrich egg from the story would look like, and Takata had other books by King-Smith and print-outs of information about animals in the story.
But while Takata tries to provide background information about the books, her first priority is the story and it is there that she excels, reading with dramatic interpretation and offering up different voices for the various characters in the books she reads.
"She brings the characters alive with her voice," Knudsen said.
"I try, anyway," Takata said. "I never realized how much drama I had in my soul until I got into the more exciting books, like 'Rikki Tikki Tavi' (by Rudyard Kip-ling)."
Now, she said, the research she puts into her volunteer work and the characters she creates with her voice are a passion in her life, as much as reading for her own pleasure.
"I go home and I'm so excited about something, I can hardly wait to go back," she said.
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