Connecting through picture books

  • Julie Cavacco reads from a distance to Carey Etchells and her three children in South Deerfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Julie Cavacco reads from a distance to Carey Etchells and her three children Everett and Madelilne, 6, and Eleanor, 8, lying down. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Julie Cavacco reads from a distance to Carey Etchells and her three children Everett and Madelilne, 6, and Eleanor, 8. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Julie Cavacco reads from a distance to Carey Etchells and her three children in South Deerfield. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Julie Cavacco reads from a distance to Carey Etchells and her three children Everett and Madelilne, 6, and Eleanor, 8. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/7/2020 7:00:33 AM
Modified: 5/7/2020 7:00:23 AM

Julie Cavacco, of South Deerfield, stood under an umbrella in the rain recently for two hours singing to families on their front lawns a song about social distancing she’d written to the tune of “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song).”

On another occasion, she dropped off heart-shaped rocks to kids’ homes and delivered pieces of birch with her name written on them. It was her way of letting them know she was still thinking of them, even if she couldn’t be with them in-person.

“I saw that all that made people feel happy, and I felt happy,” she said. “So then I thought, what can I offer?”

It was then that Cavacco, a local author, realized her experiences reading stories to the kids she used to babysit not only passed the time, but it also kept them engaged.

“I learned that kids being read to really can help them focus,” Cavacco said. “I’m feeling isolated, myself, so I thought that I could read books to kids from a distance.”

So, a few weeks ago, she began reaching out to families she knew through a number of organizations she’s involved with around town. For families who were interested, she arranged a time to come to their house and read a picture book to kids on the family’s front lawn.

“What’s great to see is the kids really settle down,” she said. “We haven’t had the warmest spring, so they’ll get blankets and they’ll curl up in chairs on the lawn.”

Cavacco stands at least six to eight feet away from the listeners, she said, and typically reads a picture book with large illustrations.

“There’s been really good feedback … but I think there’s still the hesitation,” she said. “Everybody’s still involved with homeschooling.”

Plus, the weather this spring hasn’t exactly cooperated.

She’s read to four or five families since she began offering “story time” earlier this month, but she is still arranging times to meet with other families. Anyone who would like to arrange a time for Cavacco to read to their families can email her directly at julie@myworstbestfriend.com.

The South Deerfield author said the timing coincides with the Amazon release of the e-book version of her series, “My Worst Best Friend,” a series about the everyday adventures of Andy, a reckless 10-year-old boy. The books she writes are for delayed readers, or young people who wouldn’t necessarily turn to books as a first resort.

Cavacco recalled one family she visited recently, where the mom worked in the garden and hung laundry outdoors while Cavacco read to her kids.

“Her kids got to be outside, cozy-ing up with a snack — not on a device, not arguing with each other — and settling in for a book, much like they would if they were at school,” she said. “Kids in school, this is their routine; teachers read to them in one way or another.

“It’s sort of a chance for them to focus on somebody who is not a parent.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.


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