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No stranger to the stage, Miss Iowa 2021, Grace Keller, joined Washington Public Library on Tuesday for a story time event on the Central Park stage. She read aloud the children’s book “More Pies,” by Robert Munsch, adding sound effects and earning laughs from the crowd of children that were gathered at her feet.
Afterward, Keller answered questions relating to who Mr. Iowa was, why her favorite color is yellow and what her dress looks like for the 100th Miss America Pageant this December.
In case you were wondering, Keller answered that her twin brother self-proclaimed himself Mr. Iowa; secondly, her favorite color is yellow because it reminds her of Belle’s ballgown from Beauty and The Beast, and she is in the process of designing the dress with volunteers in preparation for the competition in December.
Keller, a recent graduate of the University of Iowa, declared her social impact would be through Read to Succeed: Promoting Literacy in Grades K-3.
Read to Succeed aims to raise awareness toward the importance of enjoying reading in young children, especially those who are English language learners or live in low-income households or communities.
Keller gained a passion for reading after an interaction with her fourth-grade teacher, a passion that has since then woven its way into multiple aspects of her life.
Keller studied journalism and mass communications at UI and hosts a podcast titled “Grace on the Case,” a true crime-centered show.
“When I was in fourth grade, I was like, ‘I really want to be the smartest person in the class,’ and she told me that if I read a lot of books, I’d be smart,” Keller said. “That’s kind of stuck with me throughout my years, that’s when I really just started reading everything I could get my hands on. She was really that ‘aha moment’ for me that helped me develop my passion for literature and through that I found my love for writing and public speaking.”
Keller said that most students, especially within those target areas, lack the mentors she had, pushing for the importance of literacy and pursuing one’s passion.
“I kind of trace everything back to that one moment in my life,” Keller said. “I know a lot of kids are not that lucky that they have those moments or those mentors to push them into whatever their passion is, whether it’s literacy or something else. But literacy is so important. I want to be that person and that moment in someone’s life.”
Storytime events through libraries and classrooms throughout the state help Keller encourage young readers on a larger platform than ever before.
“To show the kids, just like them sitting there, she loved to read, she had a passion of reading and how she took it to a bigger stage and platform. How they can change the world, and they can be better by just doing what they love,” said Jenisa Harris, school-age librarian at the Washington Free Public Library. “The library is just to facilitate those great partnerships which we love. To have a champion on the front, publicly saying, ‘Go to the library, I love to read, reading is so important,’ I mean we need more people like that. Kids look up to her and that’s great for us to have any encouragement to read and learn and grow.”
Encouraging young children, whether their passions be reading or otherwise, is important to Keller.
“I know a lot of them look up to me, and I just see myself so much, especially in some of the younger girls who are at the events like this,” Keller said. “I enjoy talking to them, answering their questions, helping inspire and making them feel a little bit more secure about themselves, or pushing them into what they’re passionate about, whether it’s reading or something else. I know I would’ve really loved to meet Miss Iowa or Miss Illinois when I was younger and have a conversation with her like that.”
The Washington Free Public Library hosts events year-round, including story time events, magician shows and a reading program for children 18-months through 12th grade.
“We’ve had really great attendance, high numbers, people are excited,” Harris said.
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