Nine-year-old Lily Toland reads the book “The World According to Humphrey,” with a stuffed animal version of the hamster as part of the One Book, One School program at Williams Elementary School. 

MATTOON -- Williams Elementary School is using a book and a stuffed hamster to bring families together and get students to read.

Monday, students at Williams have started reading “The World According to Humphrey” written by Betty G. Birney as part of a One Book, One School program. The program, similar to the Mattoon Middle School Mattoon Reads program, challenges students to read a selected book.

More than 700 copies of the book donated through a gift by Howell Asphalt were handed out to the Williams students and staff to read over the course of January with their families.

“One of our goals is to increase family involvement,” Peggy Burton, Williams librarian and program organizer, said.

Burton said the program sprang from similar programs that she got wind of through workshops over the summer. The Mattoon Reads program is open to anyone in the city, however, the material is an inaccessible reading level to elementary students, she noted.

The book follows the story of a class hamster named Humphrey. Each day, Humphrey is taken home with a different student and helps alleviate or solve an issue the student or family is having.

“The family is able to come together in a more positive way, which is another things that appealed to us,” Burton said of the book choice.

Every school day of the month, there will be a principal’s challenge or question from each chapter posed to the students that could lead to prizes, Burton said.

Along with in-class discussions about the book, students might also get a chance to bring Humphrey home. Each class was given a stuffed Humphrey and a journal in a bag donated by Howell Asphalt and Consolidated Communications, Burton said.

Each night, one student will be able to bring home the stuffed animal and document what the hamster is doing in a journal.

Burton has been encouraging families to also take pictures of what the student did with the hamster that night. Pictures have already been posted on their social media platforms showing students reading, eating and even rollerblading with the hamster.

At the end of the month-long program, the school will celebrate a family pizza dinner at the school through funds donated by the Ada Davis Memorial Fund.



Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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