Absecon seventh-grader Ana Higbee has never been much of a reader.
Since Ana was a few months old, she has lived with her grandparents, English teacher Scott and superior court judge Carol, both of whom are voracious readers. Her father, Dan, who lives in Philadelphia, has them all beat - Ana describes her father's typical read as "this big," stretching her hands almost a foot apart from each other.
Ana, though, was never bitten by the bug - until she joined Attales Middle School teacher Kristin Lagg's class this year. Under Lagg's tutelage, Ana has gone from reluctant reader to bookworm.
On May 31, Ana was honored as a Be a Phanatic About Reading Most Improved Reader at an on-field ceremony at Citizens Bank Park before the Philadelphia Phillies game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Accepting this honor before a crowd of thousands was both exhilarating and frightening, Ana said.
"It was fun, but it was also kind of scary," she said.
Ana's interest in reading was first piqued early this school year when she read the Stephen King novel "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." Noting Ana's enjoyment of the book, Lagg began suggesting further reading material, pushing her to get into the habit.
Before this year, Ana hardly read anything that wasn't directly assigned. She'd put back a book, maybe two, in a month. Now she has doubled her consumption, reading for pleasure and discussing the plots of her favorite books.
Seeing his granddaughter get into reading has been gratifying for Higbee, even if it has meant sacrificing some of his own reading time, he said.
"She talks about it all the time," Higbee said. "She took my Kindle Fire. I never get it back - she's upstairs in her room, reading."
Ana and 19 other kids were invited out to the field before the game to be honored. They were each presented with a plaque and invited to dance on top of the dugouts with the Phillie Phanatic and Phoebe Phanatic.
Joining Ana at the game were Scott, Carol and Dan Higbee, a few other family members, Lagg and a few of Ana's friends. Ana is not a big baseball fan, so she spent most of the game wandering Citizen's Bank Park with Lagg and her friends.
Ana was recommended for the award by Lagg - and likewise, Ana has a pretty high opinion of her teacher.
"She's the best teacher ever," Ana said. "She's really nice, and she always makes us laugh, and she always tells us a story. If we look like we're extremely bored, she's like, 'I'm going to cut this really quick and tell a story.'"
Currently, Ana is reading "The Maze Runner," a young adult novel about a boy named Thomas who has found himself trapped inside a massive maze with no memories of the outside world. So far, Ana said, she's enjoying unraveling Thomas' mystery.
The daughter and granddaughter of avid readers, it seems Ana has finally joined her fellow Higbees in their appreciation for literature. Scott, for one, is glad.
"Seeing her start to read, it's really ... we're really happy," Higbee said. "We just kept telling her, 'You have to do more reading.' She's good at math, but she's got to do the reading, too, so we're really happy."
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