Publisher says serial story is effective in reaching young readers

Apr 11, 2014

Smithfield (VA) Times Publisher and Editor John Edwards said he has never had the resources to implement an effective Newspapers In Education project for his 5,500-circulation paper, but this year he decided to use the National Newspaper Association’s Reading Across the Nation project in an effort to reach school children.

“It has turned out to be the most effective outreach project we’ve undertaken in years, and with very little cost or effort,” Edwards said.

“We began by downloading the ‘Lily’s Story’ PDFs from the NNA site and sending them to our county public schools administration and to a private academy located here. Reading specialists with both were delighted with the quality of writing as well as the upbeat message in the series. They enthusiastically said they would participate.

“With their help, we targeted third through seventh grade students and determined we would need approximately 2,200 additional papers each week to supply every student with one.

“I approached our largest industry, Smithfield Foods, and asked for support to cover the print cost each week. The company quickly agreed. The newspaper’s cost has essentially been the space provided for the 4-column by 12 inch camera-ready PDF each week.

“We have now published six of eight chapters of ‘Lily’s Story,’ and the response has been phenomenal. Elementary schools have sent T-shirts to the paper in appreciation. One class of third graders drew little newspapers and included “thank you” notes for offering the story and, last night, I was invited to attend a school board meeting to have the paper recognized for partnering in what was described as an exceptional reading program. 

“The county’s reading specialist plans to have students participate in an essay project at the conclusion of the series, and we have agreed to publish winning essays. Thus, the project will just keep on giving.

“As far as I am concerned, the availability of ‘Lily’s Story’ alone has justified my NNA dues for this year,” Edwards said.

Three months remain for newspapers to publish “Lily’s Story” story at no cost. This year’s NNA Reading Across the Nation project ends June 30. To date, more than 166 newspapers from 27 states are participating.

Two more good reasons to start now publishing the story: tornado season gets underway in most states in March or April, and a children’s book, “Lily, A True Story of Courage and the Joplin Tornado,” by Carolyn Mueller, based on the newspaper serial, has just been released to tremendous reviews.

“Lily’s Story” is about a dog. Her owner, Tara, sees that Lily is smart and has an incredible sniffer, so she trains her dog in search and rescue. The two become a team, doing their best to help people who are lost or missing loved ones. One day Lily becomes very sick. The dog’s recovery is a miracle, but her challenges are far from over.

A month later, Joplin, MO, is hit by a massive F5 tornado. The search and rescue dog’s bravery and resilience are put to the test as she is called upon to help put her city back together, piece by piece. This is a true story of hope and hometown heroes, celebrating the courageous spirit of one very special dog.

All of the material to promote and publish the story and reach out to educators is ready to use and available at using download code: nnaread. 

Follow Edwards’ advice on reaching out to your schools. Even if you don’t intend to provide newspapers, there is still value in publishing the story for your regular readers. At the very least, write a news story or editorial encouraging teachers to take their personal copies into the classroom to share and encouraging families to read together. This story has great appeal to all ages.

If your newspaper needs help planning, promoting or publishing “Lily’s Story,” contact Dawn Kitchell, NNA’s Newspaper In Education liaison, at 636-932-4301 or