Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

It was a chilly Wednesday morning in Eastside Santa Barbara, but Franklin School 3rd-grade teacher Leon Lewandowski’s classroom was warm and toasty as the kids gathered around the virtual hearth (a YouTube video of a crackling fire playing on the classroom’s wall-mounted television) curled up in a sea of blankets and plushy pillows to enjoy a cozy pajama-clad read-in for Scholastic’s 13th Annual Great Bedtime Story Pajama Drive.

Each year, schools across the country participate in the drive run by Scholastic Book Clubs and Pajama Program. In the 12 years since the event started, the drives have collected and distributed more than 850,000 pairs of pajamas and 1.25 million books.

At Franklin Elementary, a Title 1 school which serves a majority of low-income students, Lewandowski began participating in 2018, asking students and their families to donate sets of pajamas toward children and families in need. To celebrate, the children show up to school in their own pajamas, clear all the desks, and get comfortable for a morning read-in.

Students “feel the warmth” of the virtual fireplace. | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

He says that participating in the pajama drive and celebrating with a read-in helps the kids learn the importance of giving, while also instilling the sense that reading is a rewarding activity.

“They see that we celebrate their kindness with reading, which makes reading a gift, a prize, a positive instead of a chore. It’s a win-win,” Lewandowski said.

After an early lesson on subjects and predicates, and a quick quiz on math, Lewandowski loads up a virtual fireplace on the TV screen, and the excited kids crowd around the monitor — bright and colorful in their pajamas representing all their favorites: Pokémon, Lilo and Stitch, the Grinch, Santa Claus, and Spider-Man. The children stretch their arms out to the crackling screen.

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“It’s really warm!” shouts one student, followed by another, then another. Soon all are convinced that the heat is emanating from the YouTube video.

Lewandowski throws a mischievous smile: “The power of suggestion,” he says.

The kids then settle in for a reading of Lobo and the Rabbit Stew, a story in the vein of “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Three Little Pigs,” but sprinkled with Spanish phrases and words. Lewandowski hits different voices for each of the characters, the kids laughing at his gruff interpretation of the wolf. 

After the story, the kids break out their own reading — picture books, comic books, chapter books — while Lewandowski cracks open a Batman novel.

Children enjoyed some cozy pajama reading time | Credit: Leon Lewandowski

“I also enjoy our celebration,” he says.

But Lewandowski said his favorite part is seeing the students’ faces when he laid out all the pajamas they collected. This year, the class collected 39 sets of never-been-worn pajamas for children from six months to 12 years old.

All the pajamas will be donated to Transition House and distributed to families experiencing homelessness.

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