Launching Young Readers series
An empowering, upbeat, and totally hip show for kids ages 7-12
Reading Rocks! is a buoyant PBS television special that appeals to kids and encourages struggling readers to keep trying. The Disney Channel's Nick Spano (Even Stevens) hosts the special, which uses wacky humor to offer stories of hope to children who are trying to learn to read. Set to a hip-hop soundtrack, Reading Rocks! features a kid author, a claymation movie, inspiring profiles, and silly moments with Spano.
The television show is the first project of Reading Rockets created expressly for kids. While Reading Rocks! is designed for children ages seven to twelve, the special was also created with parents and teachers in mind so they can watch, understand, and encourage struggling readers at home and school. It is a special episode of the award-winning Launching Young Readers series.
Reading Rocks! features actress Vivica A. Fox (Ella Enchanted) in an entertaining segment about some of the oddities of the English language and author/illustrator Christopher Myers (Wings and Harlem) in an elementary school visit where he uses his big feet to show children that being different is something to celebrate.
About the program
The Lab School
Meet Sam, Madeleine, Oliver, and the rest of the kids at the Lab School of Washington, D.C., a school designed especially for children with learning disabilities. Watch as the students create a claymation movie called "From Zero to Hero" that vividly illustrates their feelings about struggling to learn to read.
Ben may be dyslexic, but he's also a published author! With the help of people who believed in him, he was able to overcome his difficulties and write the children's book, My Year with Harry Potter.
Maricely was in danger of repeating the fifth grade. Born in Puerto Rico and a native Spanish speaker, she found it doubly hard to learn to read in English. She doesn't give up, though, and with the help of her family and teachers, Maricely graduates to middle school.
Christopher Myers: A Writer's Story
Children's author and illustrator Christopher Myers (Wings and Harlem) visits some of his biggest fans at P.S. 304 in New York City. There he uses his humongous feet to show children that being different is something to celebrate.
Transcript by segment:
Nick Spano: To Ben, words were a jumble. For Maricely, English was a mystery.
Maricely: Oh my God, it's, like, so hard.
Nick: And for A.J., reading was just plain frustrating. [Ahh!] Have you ever felt like that?
Sam: All the words would feel like they were — it was like they were moving.
Madeleine: Sometimes I wish that there was no such thing as reading.
Nick: But you know what? These kids all learned to read, and we're going to show you just how they did it!
Announcer: Reading Rocks! Hosted by Nick Spano. A Reading Rockets Production. Funding for Reading Rocks! was provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.
Nick: Hi! I'm Nick Spano. I know a lot of kids who've had a really hard time learning how to read. Even you may know how tough it can be. You may have wanted to give up at times. Well, let's meet some kids from across the country who have been there — and then went on to become good readers!
The Lab School (Washington, D.C.)
Nick: We'll start in Washington D.C., where eight kids have five days to make a one-minute movie. On your marks, get set, go!
Ruth: What makes all animation work is moving things a little bit at a time, right?
Nick: The Lab School of Washington is a really cool place where kids with learning disabilities can use art to help them learn. These kids are going to tell us what it feels like to struggle with reading — and they're gonna make a claymation movie about it!
Ruth: Your eyes blend those pictures together so it looks likes it's moving, right? So that's the way all animation works.
Madeleine: I'm Madeleine, and I'm eight years old.
Madeleine: I always felt left out. I always felt like I didn't know anything at all about books. When it was time to get up an' go to school, I kept on saying, "No, no, no, no, no, no. I don't wanna go. I don't wanna go."
Ruth: Our job this week is to try and figure out the idea that we're gonna have for our film.
Nick: That's Ruth. Man! What a nice teacher. I wish I'd had a teacher like that.
Ruth: I thought it might be helpful if we all tried to remember different things about when we were all learning to read.
Skyla: I went to school where absolutely everyone knew how to read.
Skyla: I'm Skyla and I'm gonna be 12 soon.
Skyla: Kids would make fun of me and the teacher would start yelling at me and send me to the principal's office.
Ruth: In a film, in a movie, which is kind of a make believe thing, sometimes you can show what you wish you could have said to the teacher. What would you like to say to that teacher, to just tell her what she was, how she could treat you better?
Sam: Well, that she could try to teach us to read instead of just making us read things that we couldn't read.
Sam: I'm Sam, and I'm 11.
Sam: Or at least don't get mad at us if we mess up.
Ruth: If you were making a movie about a kid in a classroom — you — that's right. Look at Oliver's face. You could show that teacher getting more and more mad.
Skyla: Their face could turn red. There could be steam coming out of their ears.
Nick: They turn red. Or, like sweating. You could make them sweat.
Oliver: The teacher melted away to nothing. The kids have the rest of the millennium off!
Nick: Now it's time for our filmmakers to get down to business. We've got to mold seven characters out of clay and create a full classroom set. Now, let's go go go!
Nick: So — we've got the story, the set, and the characters. Now what do we need?
Nick: No, not lunch! We need sound!
Nick: Did you really think those little lumps of clay were going to talk all by themselves?
Nick: And now, the voice of John played by Nick.
Nick: Uh, the other Nick.
Ruth: Now the teacher's really mad, and she just said to you, "You should be able to read that easy word!" And you have to say — you're kind of upset and you say, "I can't."
Nick: To get this right, Nick will have to do it over and over and over.
Nick (student): I can't.
Nick: Grrrreat, Nick!
Nick: Do it again.
Nick (student): I, I, I can't.
Nick: You 'da man, Nick.
Nick: Do it again.
Nick (student): I can't.
Nick: Nicky, baby. You're beautiful, kid. You're gorgeous. Don't ever change.
Tony: Okay, go ahead and move her, just a little bit. Okay, move her head. That's good.
Nick: Now it's finally time to bring these little people to life. The kids have to take digital pictures of each tiny movement. And when they run the pictures together on the computer, it'll look like a movie!
Tony: Does that sound good?
Ruth: Having learning disabilities isn't the same as being stupid. Having a learning disability just means it might take you a little longer to do something, or you might have to do it a different way, but it has nothing to do with being stupid. Kids with learning disabilities have lots of different talents and can learn to do lots of different things and they just have to learn in a way that's good for them.
Madeline: I'm eight, and sometimes I think I won't read until I'm 18. But I know that will never happen.
Sam: If you're having a really hard time, just step back and just think of what you're having problems with and don't get too frustrated, because if you get frustrated too easily, you'll just get mad at yourself. And it's not really your fault.
Madeleine: Sometimes, I'm like looking at the pictures and then like I look at the words and I just know I could do it. I just know I could do it. Then I start reading the book and sometimes I could finish the whole book, and it's really great.
Nick: Now it's time for the magic of animation. Introducing, an original film by Sam, Skyla, Nick, Miles, Katie, Madeline, Julia, and Oliver, Phew — From Zero to Hero!
Teacher: Now who can read this first word? John?
Teacher: Hurry up!
Class: Hurry up! Come on!
Teacher: You should be able to read this easy word.
John: I I I can't
Teacher: I don't think you're trying. I'm getting very angry! [Head catches on fire.]
Class: Holy smokes! Ahh the teacher's on fire!
John: I know what to do! [throws water on the teacher.]
Class: Yeah, John! You rock!
Nick: Get it? The teacher was all "wet." Good job, guys. Let's see that crazy part again!
Replay the fiery head/water bit
Nick: Shazam! Now you think a kid who could save the day like that would be able to read a little word like "wet." But a lot of kids can't!
Nick: And what makes reading so hard? Well, my friend Vivica Fox has been working on a little somethin' somethin' to help us understand. Take it away, Viv!
Vivica: It's tricky to read a line, to write a rhyme, it's right on time, it's tricky! Tricky.
Vivica: To read or not to read, that is the question in a language where cow sounds like sow, and Lil Bow Wow. But not row or mow. How should I know?
Vivica: Tough rhymes with stuff. Bough rhymes with plow. Cough rhymes with off. Dough rhymes with — Whoah! Hold on here. Wait just a readin', writin' minute. I think we need some help here. Dr. Spelling Doctor, tell 'em what you know.
Nick: It may seem like spelling makes no sense. And sometimes it doesn't! But what would you do if you wanted to shoot a jump shot like Michael Jordan? That's right. You'd practice. Just like he did! So if you learn your letters and sounds, and you learn some spelling patterns — like "PH" sounds like /F/ — you'll be well on your way to becoming a reader!
Vivica: That's right. And we're gonna prove it.
Vivica: Here's a boy with dyslexia who got so good at reading — he actually wrote his own book! Here it is! Cool, huh? My Year with Harry Potter, by Ben Buchanan. You go, Ben. Take it away.
Nick: Meet Ben Buchanan, percussionist. I'm scared of you, Ben!
Nick: Meet Ben Buchanan, artiste.
Nick: Ben Buchanan, successful student.
Nick: Ben Buchanan, inventor.
Nick: Ben Buchanan, dyslexic.
Ben: I found out that I was dyslexic by — when I had to go and take my "special" classes. I remember not being able to read barely anything and being put into the lowest reading group in my first and second grade classes. I felt like my dyslexia made me different from other kids.
Nick: Wait a minute. Dyslexia? What's that? Sounds like some kind of nasty skin disease — ooh, she's got Dyslexia! Or wait, maybe it's the name of a cool new car. Check out my new Dyslexia. Nice, huh?
Nell Carvell: Dyslexia is just a fancy word for somebody who's having trouble learning how to read, or spell, or do some writing.
Nick: This lady really knows what she's talking about. Let's see what she's gonna do with Ben!
Nell: I have a paper that your mom gave me. It's something you did when you were in 2nd grade. It shows some of your spelling, and how hard spelling was. And you said, the first one was what was this first one?
Ben: CiCi's Pizza.
Nell: CiCi's Pizza? Can you read what you've written here?
Ben: Uh corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, eggs, fruits, vegetables, ravioli
Nick: Wait. Wait. Wait. Hold up, Ben. Wait a second. Didn't Vivica say Ben wrote a book, but when he was in second grade, he spelled "ravioli" "L-O-V-D-Y"? Come on! Even I know "ravioli" starts with "R." So how did he go from being what you might call a struggling speller, to being an author of a book full of correctly spelled words? Maybe it had something to do with those "special classes."
Mom: Ben was a three dimensional thinker. Reading doesn't fit the way he was thinking, the way he was responding to the world.
Nick: Step one, his mom and dad hooked him up with a really great tutor, Ms. Nelson!
Mom: You have to start with ?
Ms. Nelson: "igloo" /i/. That first sound.
Mom: That first sound is what?
Ms. Nelson: "igloo" /i/. "i," short "i."
Nick: So cool. Ben learned how to connect letters to sounds to blend them all together to make words. Step two in teaching Ben to read? Harry Potter.
Ben: On Christmas Day two or three years ago my stocking had the first Harry Potter book next to it. And later that night, my mom started reading it to me. And then I decided that I would actually try to read this myself, 'cause it sounded so interesting.
Nick: And Harry changed Ben's life! Ben was inspired to invent a Harry Potter game. And that inspired him to write a book about the whole experience! But it wasn't easy.
Ben: I remember dictating most of it to my mom. Some days I was too tired to write, and I didn't want to, and I didn't feel motivated.
Nick: Whew! I'm getting tired just thinking about all that writing! Well, lucky for us — Ben didn't let that stop him!
Jennifer Anglin: Thank you very much and I'm gonna turn it over to Ben. Let's give a big Dallas welcome.
Nick: And today he's signing autographs for his adoring public!
Claire: One for me, and one for my cousin.
Nick: Pretty good for a boy with dyslexia, huh? Just listen to his proud teacher.
Ms. Nelson: To see him here today is truly amazing. To go from being a total non-reader, non-speller, to being an author. You've come a long way, Ben.
Maricely (Hartford, Connecticut)
Nick: When I say "reading," you say "rocks."
Nick: When I say "reading," you say "rocks."
Nick: When I say "reading," you say "rocks."
Nick: When I say "Nick," you say "Rules."
Nick: NICK!Kids are silent.
Nick: That, that's your part. You, you, you say, "Rules." Ok? One more time. Nick!Kids are silent.
Nick: All right. I see how it is. It's fine. Moving on. Now I'm gonna hand it off to correcpondent Betmarie Texera, who's at the scene of a really big story, Betmarie?
Betmarie: Today we are going to see the secret lives of teenagers and how they get ready for a talent show.
Nick: This is fifth grader Maricely Ponton, Betmarie's sister. Man, I love this music! Maricely lives in Hartford, Connecticut, but she was born in Puerto Rico — see the flag? This girl loves the spotlight, but that hasn't always been the case.
Maricely: I was reading in class, and then I came across this word that I didn't know. So, when I started saying it, everybody started laughin'.
Nick: Yep, Maricely had trouble learning to read. She was learning in a second language! Could you imagine learning to read Chinese or Greek?
Nick: Maricely and her family moved from Puerto Rico when she was just two years old. Maricely's mom does speak a little English, but at home and in Maricely's neighborhood, everyone usually speaks Spanish — which makes it hard to practice your English!
Maricely: It is hard to learn English — especially when your family speaks Spanish only.
Maricely: I felt left out, because I didn't know how to read or write English. And most of my friends, when they, like, passed notes around, they would pass me a note, and they would write it in English. So, when I was going to read it, I didn't know.
Nick: One thing that confused Maricely was the way the same sound can be spelled different ways! What's that all about?!?
Maricely: You say a word — for example, "Christopher" — right? It sounds like an "f-e-r," but, actually, "p" — "p-h-e-r," and I will be, like, this is so hard.
Nick: Things got so tough for Maricely that they decided that she needed to repeat the fifth grade. Ugh!!
Maricely: I was mad. I didn't want — I was mad inside. It was hard for me, so I wanted to quit. But then I decided not to.
Nick: You go, Maricely! A lot of kids would just give up, but not Maricely.
Teacher: Say it, spell it, say it.
Class: Lunching. L-U-N-C-H-I-N-G.
Nick: She buckled down and worked extra hard with her teachers.
Maricely: The teachers always gave me, like, a book. And I start reading that one. And when I finish it, they told me to read it again. And then they'll give me one book harder and then one harder, and then they'll make me understand the English more.
Nick: Maricely also worked at home with big sister Betmarie.
Betmarie: It's hard and it's — at some points in time you just feel like giving up 'cause maybe you think it's not worth it. But it's worth everything. All the struggles, everything. It's gonna be worth it.
Nick: And Maricely thinks so, too.
Maricely: I wanted to show the bullies as they learned a second language, so could I learn my second language. And here I am, talkin' English. And so can you.
Nick: And guess what?! Next year, she'll be headed to sixth grade! Speaking and reading both English and Spanish! Man, she knows twice the words I do!
Nick: Hey, wait a minute. Maybe I should get in on this second language thing. I could be a big star in Bolivia and Mexico, and Nicaragua, and in Spain, Chile, and Peru, and Panama, and Argentina, and Columbia, and El Salvador, and Ecuador, and Uraguay, and
Christopher Myers: A Writer's Story
Nick: Whoa! It's P.S. 304 in New York City. Let's see what's happening!
Ms. Ganthier: Here comes Christopher Myers!
Kids scream and cheer
Myers: My people! My people!
Nick: Wow! This guy looks like a rock star! But his fans are all less than half his size? That's cause his job is writing books for kids! What's that all about? Let's get to know him. Mr. Myers, what makes you tick? What rocks your world? Exactly who is Christopher Myers?
Myers: My job is to tell stories about my neighborhood, about where I come from, about where I grew up. I think everyone has stories to tell. This is one of the things I'm really interested in is telling kids that I don't care who you are, you have a story to tell.
Myers: I wanted to do a book about a kid who was different, because I'm different, okay? Because I got big feet, because I'm tall.
Kid: Your hair's different.
Myers: What's wrong with my hair?
Kid: It's curly.
Myers: Cause I got curly hair? Uh-huh.
Myers: Who else here is different?
Kid: I have big feet, too.
Myers: You're different because you have big feet, too. All right.
Myers: Growing up, I was the tallest one in my class. I was the youngest one in my class. I always had big feet. It took me a long time to learn that all those things were cool.
Myers: I wanna write a story with you. I'll do the pictures. The first thing I need is a character.
Kid: A boy named Anthony.
Myers: A boy named Anthony. OK. Does Anthony have big eyes or little eyes?
Kids: Big eyes.
Myers: Big eyes. Okay. That's Anthony.
Myers: Every story has characters and has a problem. So what's Anthony's problem gonna be?
Kid: Big feet.
Myers: So Anthony had big feet. How big was Anthony's feet?
Kid: Like yours.
Myers: Like mine? You saying I got big feet again.
Kid: Yeah, big feet.
Myers: So you tell me where to stop.
Kids giggle and scream stop!
Myers: What? What? What? OK, I'm gonna stop. All right.
Kid: That's too big.
Myers: But that's his problem. That's a problem. That's a for real problem there.
Kid: And, like, his feet is swollen?
Myers: How's he gonna fix his problem?
Kid: You could solve the problem by giving Anthony a plastic surgery.
Myers: A what?
Kid: A plastic surgery.
Myers: A plastic surgery on his feet?
Myers: My grandfather couldn't read, and yet he was one of the best storytellers I ever met. I used to sit on his knee and he would tell me these stories about everything from radioactive bunnies running around, and he would scare you. He could tell a story like nobody's business.
Myers: Who here likes to read?
Kids raise their hands
Myers: Who here doesn't like to read?
Kid: I think it's hard.
Myers: Cause it's hard sometimes. Do you think it's sometimes hard for me when I make books?
Myers: No, it is hard sometimes. Sometimes it's hard. Does that mean it's bad? No, sometimes some of the good things, some of the fun things to do are hard to do. You know? And that's one of the things you need to remember if you feel like sometimes reading is hard, that's okay.
Myers: We're all having a hard time with something, and I don't care who you are. There are books that I will read one time, feel like I know what it's about, then read another time and find it's about a whole 'nother thing. It doesn't matter how good of a reader you are, because you will always get to be a better and better reader.
Myers: And look at you touching my shoes. I told you never touch my shoes.
Myers: It doesn't matter what it is that goes on in your life. The things that make you you, are the things that you need to be proud of.
A.J. (Nashville, Tennessee)
Nick: Toot! Last stop?!? Nashville, Tennessee. Now, let's meet A.J.! A.J. was having a real hard time learning how to read, but watch and see how he turned that around.
Nick: When you're 8 years old, life can be a lot of fun! But when you're 8, there's also a time to get serious!
A.J.: It's time for school!
A.J.: I wanna be the best reader I could be. Hi, I'm A.J. and this is my world.
Nick: A.J.'s world was a place where reading was confusing. It was really getting him down.
A.J.: Sometimes I get stuck on a word, like a long word, and if I don't know - sometimes if I'm reading with somebody I start, you know, getting mixed up on words. It looks like I didn't know how to read or anything. I just need to try harder and harder. Aaahhh!!
Kids: Reading is hard!
Nick: But A.J.'s lucky. His school has this cool way of teaching. It's fun because students get to teach each other.
Christina: Read it fast.
Christina: Sound it out.
Nick: A.J., why don't you tell them about it!
A.J.: First we start out with little words like two words at a time, then we came with big words. Christina, she's my PAL partner. She's a good PAL partner because she knows all the words.
A.J.: Thank you!
A.J.: The reason why I wanna get better is because I really wanna start doing chapter books.
Nick: And there's no better place in the world to find those books than the public library!
A.J.: We're here at the library. Please no food or drink inside the library and remember, SHHHH.
Nick: Now watch this. If A.J. stumbles over too many words, he'll need to choose an easier book. Let's see how he does.
A.J.: Uh, Granny /d/, /d/, doom
A.J.: Doomsday opens the car. Opened the door. She wore an old witches hat and a long dark dress.
Nick: That was awesome, A.J.! Keep it up and you'll be a member of the Reading Rocks' Dream Team!
Shalisa: Hi, A.J.
A.J.: Hi, Shalisa. Look what book I found!
A.J.: I can't give up on how to be a better reader.
A.J.: (reading) "I'm going to make something special for your mother," my father said. My mother was out shopping. My father was in the kitchen looking at the pots and the pans.
A.J.: I wanna be the best reader I could be.
Close & Credits
Nick: I know reading can be really tough. So, believe me, it's okay to ask for help. But kids just like you have made it through, and how they know how cool it is to read. You can get there, too. I know you can. I'm Nick Spano. Take care.
Announcer: Visit us on the web for more exciting stories about readers like you! Talk to PBS.org.
- Parents' Choice Silver Honor Award winner
"Parents of children who have learning disabilities might find this especially reassuring, interesting, and informative [T]he show is enlightening and fun to watch."