Books Build Bridges celebrates success


PORTSMOUTH— Towards the end of last month, the Books Build Bridges program hosted Richard Cowdrey, the New York Times bestselling illustrator of the popular Fiona the Hippo children’s book series, as he engaged with over 800 local third grade students as well as Shawnee State University (SSU) art students and the community as a whole.

Upon arrival at their drawing sessions at the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts, third grade students expressed their excitement to draw Fiona, meet Cowdrey, and hear all about the books they had been reading. According to several teachers, many of the participating schools had spent at least a week of class dedicated to reading the Fiona books and watching videos of the titular hippopotamus. One school even said that they were preparing for a field trip to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden just to see Fiona herself.

Cowdrey said, “I had the great privilege of speaking to nearly 800 third graders from all over Scioto County. The event was held at the beautiful Shawnee State auditorium. I was so impressed with the kids, their attention, their politeness, and the wonderful drawings that they did of Fiona the hippo! I was also impressed with the town of Portsmouth and its people and especially the floodwall murals! Thanks to all, especially Sharee Price for showing me such a great time!”

Students from various SSU art programs also attended a session with Cowdrey in the Clark Memorial library in which students were invited to ask questions about his art, his career, and any pointers he might have for them as young artists.

The Portsmouth location of the Scioto County Public Library was packed with community members for an author’s Meet-and-Greet with Cowdrey. The SSU Bookstore sold books from the Fiona the Hippo series so people could buy them for their friends and family and get them signed by Cowdrey while he was here. After a short presentation, he signed books for a long line of people wrapped around the circulation desk and all the way into the bookshelves of the library.

“The goal of the Books Build Bridges program is to put books in the hands of children and promote literacy in Scioto County. This biennial program gives us the perfect opportunity to do just that. The Portsmouth Rotary Club is proud to continue this mission and appreciates the Scioto County Public Library, Clark Memorial Library, and South Central Ohio ESC for collaborating with us to make it all possible,” said Rotary Club member, Tess Midkiff.

Third graders from the participating schools sent thank-you letters and cards to the Books Build Bridges committee for giving them the opportunity to receive the Fiona books and meet Cowdrey. Many of them said their favorite part of the program was getting to read the book and draw Fiona, and nearly every letter had students’ own illustrations on them, including drawings of Fiona.

The Rotary Club of Portsmouth’s commitment to promoting literacy is at the heart of Books Build Bridges, and this year’s events showed a great response to multimodal learning from young local students, although Scioto County community members of all ages were excited for and invested in the success of these literacy events.

Books Build Bridges Committee member, Sharee Price commented “This project was two years in the making and seeing the children’s reactions to meeting Richard and drawing along with him proved what a great investment of our time and resources this was. I know I speak for the rest of our committee members when I say that we are extremely grateful for the support of our community and the sponsors who made this project possible. We’re also very appreciative of the staff at Shawnee State University who were so helpful with the technical aspects of making it possible for the children to see Richard drawing by projecting it onto a very large screen on the stage. Our committee will be meeting again soon to start planning for the 2026 Books Build Bridges project.”

No posts to display