Fishtown student star in new children’s book

In person, Samira Long, 12, is something of a shy, quiet kid.

In print, though, she shines as the star of a new book aimed at helping young children learn to read.

The sixth grader at Fishtown’s Adaire Elementary School can be seen smiling on the cover of Slide!, a new book, written in English and Spanish, by author Cynthia Kreilick of Orefield, Pa., a Philly suburb.

In the book, Samira acts as a model, repeatedly sliding down the historic Ann Newman Giant Wooden Slide at Smith Playground & Playhouse in Fairmount Park — which has been at 33rd and Oxford in Brewerytown since 1905.

“It’s like one of the best slides,” said the book’s author Kreilick. “It’s like an amusement park.”

“It was a lot of fun,” said the reserved Samira.

The idea for the book, Kreilick said, began a few years ago. As an early childhood educator, Kreilick wanted to create a series of books for the city’s immigrant population that focuses on developing literacy for young children while highlighting free or low-cost activities families can find in Philadelphia.

Through her company, Morning Circle Media, she and her daughter Alyssa, a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts — she took all of the photos of Long for Slide! — hope to continue the series with future titles focusing on the Please Touch Museum, Fairmount Park and other attractions.

“This is what literacy is all about,” said Kreilick. “And, I love Philadelphia.”

About four years ago, while holding a literacy workshop at a local daycare center, Kreilick met Catherine Long, Samira’s mother, and the two began discussing childhood reading.

From those discussions sprouted the idea to have Samira model for photos to be used in Kreilick’s planned book on the century-old slide.

“We think kids are more willing to listen and learn from another kid,” said Catherine, in discussing how she and her daughter believed in using photos, instead of illustrations, in the book.

She said that by using photos, young children would be able to identify more easily with the characters — and in turn, concepts — in the book, hopefully leading to a better retention of information.

“Samira is able to get children to listen better than I do,” admitted Catherine.

Last week, as the older students at Adaire Elementary School received recognition from their principal, Michael Rosenberg, for their participation in a music, arts and design after school program — created in partnership with the Portside Arts Center — Samira visited a kindergarten class to read the book to a group of excited 5- and 6-years-olds.

Catherine said Samira is popular fixture at Adaire and known by many of the school’s more than 400 pupils.

“Everybody knows Samira,” she said.

This fact was evident when the girl entered a classroom full of young children; a resounding “Hi, Samira,” filled the room when she sat in front of the group.

“That’s Samira, she’s the star of the book,” said Kreilick when they entered the room.

Taking a moment to read Slide! to the class, lead by kindergarten teacher Tiffany Choi, Samira spoke softly and slowly to allow the students a chance to grasp her words as she displayed the photos of her at Smith Playground.

According to Choi, reading to children at this age is an important part of their early childhood development. In fact, she reads about two or three books a day to the children normally.

“It’s important. It reaffirms that the kids should read. Then, they will love to read when they grow up,” said Choi.

After the reading of the book, Kreilick asked the children if they enjoyed Samira’s telling of the tale, to which the children responded with a resounding “Yes!”

But, what might be next for Samira? Could a future in modeling be ahead for the popular girl who starred in the book?

She didn’t divulge her future plans when asked. Instead, Samira grinned and said “maybe.”

Also, in support of Smith Playground, Kreilick plans to donate one dollar from the sale of each book to the historic play place. For more information on Slide! or how to purchase the book, visit morningcirclemedia.com.

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com