Antonia Celestino was too shy to say very much yesterday, standing in front of about 40 people under a tent outside the Maumee branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library system.
For the record, Antonia was recognized in front of those people for saying a lot through her reading. Antonia was one of 30 students honored yesterday for big improvement in reading scores at the third annual Claire's Day celebration.
Claire's Day is named after a 10-year-old avid reader from Maumee who died in 2000. It brought together authors, illustrators, and performers from the Midwest in celebration of reading. Some 4,000 people crowded the courtyard area outside the library to listen to performances, hear authors and artists, and cheer reading award winners.
Kristina White, co-chair of the CARE reading awards, said Antonia's teacher nominated her for the award. In a nomination letter, the teacher said that Antonia had entered the second grade last fall at Dorr Street School, in the Springfield school district, with a kindergarten reading level.
Through the work of teachers, her parents, volunteers, and Antonia, the girl raised her reading assessment score to 20, just above the average second-grade level.
"She just started reading, and I think she just realized that she could do it," said her father, Juan Celestino. "She started reading more and more when she entered [Dorr Street School]."
Barbara Celestino, Antonia's mother, said her daughter was reading to anyone who wanted to listen to her and she really seemed to discover her love for reading. Students receiving awards were from the Anthony Wayne, Sylvania, Maumee, Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Springfield, Perrysburg, Rossford, Oregon, and Washington Local school districts. Awards also were given to students at Rosary Cathedral and Queen of Apostles Catholic schools and the Toledo Islamic Academy.
Antonia's story moved Brad Rubini, Claire Rubini's father, who helped with the presentations of awards. Claire was an avid reader before she died at a Girls Scout camp in 2000.
"Man, I cried listening [to Antonia's] story," Mr. Rubini said. "How inspring is that? It's great when you hear about something like that happening."
Brad and Julie Rubini helped organize the day with friends and volunteers, and they said, despite the unseasonably cool temperatures, it was a perfect tribute to their daughter.
"She would have been running around trying to meet authors and reading like the other kids here," said Julie Rubini. "I don't hesitate to say that she would have been a full participant at something like this."
The event's organizers turned Claire's name into an acronym for Celebration of Life, Authors, Illustrators, and Reading Excellence. Numerous artists appeared in the library's auditorium to share their own writing stories with parents and children alike.
Collin Reid, 11, a fifth grader at Fort Miami School in Maumee, said he enjoyed the work of storyteller and artist Wil Clay, who did a workshop on his illlustrations and books.
"It was a lot of fun because he drew a lot of cool stuff," Collin said. "He drew a picture of an old man that was in one of his books. I thought this was a good experience because my friends all like to read too and this was a lot of fun."
Some ducked into the tents to purchase books, make butter, or listen to groups like the Black Swamp Blues Society, or hear storytellers like Condessa Croninger.
Chris Kozak, spokesman for the library, said the crowd was a testament to the area's support of the library and reading.
"Our library patrons check out an average of 14 books a year, and that's tops in the state," Mr. Kozak said. "This is a great forum to promote reading, books, and authors."