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NEA News

Third Graders Celebrate Read Across America with Juana Medina

Kids learn how stories and diverse books bring us together with words and pictures.
Juana Medina
Juana Medina reads to third graders at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria, Va.
Published: March 20, 2024

Key Takeaways

  1. The Read Across America celebration was at a school named for a Civil Rights leader who fought for library access for African Americans.
  2. Author and illustrator Juana Medina shared how stories build human connection.
  3. NEA President Becky Pringle, Vice President Princess Moss, and Secretary Treasurer Noel Candelaria joined in the fun.

It’s Read Across America month and third graders at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., celebrated with the National Education Association and award-winning author/illustrator Juana Medina at a fun-filled morning of reading and drawing. 

NEA President Becky Pringle cheers with students at Read Across America.
NEA President Becky Pringle asked students to raise their hands if they love reading.

NEA President Becky Pringle told the excited students, who sat with their classmates on colorful parachutes in their balloon-festooned gym, that the goal of NEA’s Read Across America is for every single student, and every grown up, to read every day. 

“Do you know how many people join us for Read Across America?” Pringle asked the students. 

“A trillion!” one shouted. “About 1,012,” another suggested. 

“We have 45 million readers in our Read Across America program,” she said as the students gasped. “And guess what? Today you get to be a part of that big number.” 

A Virginia Changemaker

Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School is a particularly fitting place to celebrate reading. 

“Samuel Tucker couldn’t check out library books because he was Black,” a third grader named George explained.  

Samuel Wilbert Tucker was born in Alexandria in 1913, and growing up in segregation left a deep impression on him. He became a lawyer and activist for civil rights.  

On August 21, 1939, Tucker sent five young  African American men to stage a peaceful protest at the whites-only library in Alexandria. When their request for a library card was refused, they sat down quietly to read. Tucker was their legal defense when they were later charged with disorderly conduct. The charges against the men were dropped and, after hearing Tucker’s argument, the court agreed that African American citizens of Alexandria should have access to a library. 

“It wasn’t fair, and he stood up for what was right,” George said of his school’s namesake. “He was very brave.” 

How Stories Bring Us Together 

It can be hard to be brave, Juana Medina told the third graders, who nodded in agreement. She shared how she had to be brave when she moved from Bogota, Colombia, to America, and she didn’t know how to speak English and her teachers didn’t always know how to spell or pronounce her name. 

“It wasn’t easy when I moved here,” Medina said. “Sometimes I felt small and afraid. But with time, and friends, I started to feel a bit better.” 

She said everyone will have hard times, but in those hard times, she tries to read the space around her, explaining to the children that they can read faces and spaces just like they read words in a book. 

“I read the space around me and try to find someone who is being kind, or find something that is beautiful, for just a minute.” 

Juana Medina reads her book Juana and Lucas to students.
Juana Medina reads her book "Juana and Lucas" to students.

She started drawing what she saw and writing what she felt. She wrote and drew what she felt like leaving her familiar and beloved city of Bogota and coming to a new country, and eventually she turned those words and drawing into a book.  

“I never thought something that happened to me growing up would become a book,” she said. “And you know what? The things that happen to you today could end up in a book or in a story. You are going to be the next authors and illustrators and singers and dancers and bakers! And we will be sitting and listening to you while you share your story!”   

Medina said her biggest honor as an author is meeting young readers and sharing stories.  

“Stories connect us. There are so many things that happen to us that happen to everyone else, too,” she said. “We all experience joy, fear, excitement, even anger. We are connected as human beings.” 

Stories show those connections, she explained, through words as well as through pictures. 

Storytelling through Art 

“Do we need to be fancy artists to draw?” she asked. 

“No!” the kids shouted. “Art can be anything!” one girl exclaimed. 

And with that, each student got a piece of paper and a marker to draw the portrait of their partner on one side and a self-portrait on the other. 

Ellie, who wants to become a teacher, and Abby, who plans to be a poet, partnered up for the activity. Ellie drew Abby with big eye lashes and waves of hair. Abby included Ellie’s glasses and braids.  

RAA event 2024
Ellie’s portrait of her friend Abby.

“It’s important to pay attention to features,” Ellie said.

When the students were finished, Medina called a few up to share their work. 

Aidan shared two self-portraits. One was more realistic, and the other was a cartoon version that he plans to include in a book. 

“I make books, too,” he said proudly. 

Gia, whose self-portrait included a picture of her dog, admitted that it was a challenge, but she said she had to remember that “we’re all artists on the inside.” 

Medina told the kids that their portraits could include words, and one girl wrote “Love Yourself” by her self-portrait. 

“That is so important,” Medina said. To show how truly important it is, she asked everyone in the packed gym to say it out loud.  

“Love yourself!” chorused through the room. 

NEA Vice President Princess Moss and Secretary Treasurer Noel Candelaria even got in on the action.  

Candelaria drew a portrait of Moss that all agreed captured her likeness, and then Moss drew her self-portrait.  

“At first I was really, really nervous, because I found it kind of hard to draw myself,” Moss shared with the students. “I thought, oh my goodness, how do I see myself?”  

But her portrait turned out just as beautifully as all the rest because, as Gia had pointed out, “we’re all artists on the inside.” 

“Today I learned right along with you, and it was so much fun,” Moss said to the assembly. “I hope you had as much fun as I did.” 

A gift from NEA, all the children received copies of Medina's book Juana and Lucas so they can remember the fun they had forever.


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National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.