The vast vocabulary and thoughtful sentences spoken from 11-year-old Ella Spremulli’s lips defy her youth.
Her favorite activity is to thank for her intelligent personality: reading. While she may have re-read her favorite book, The Fault in Our Stars, many times, she’s read enough books to put her on this year’s list of recipients of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Young Readers Medallion Award.
“I feel like I almost know the characters because I’ve read it so many times, and I can kind of relate to the story,” Ella said of John Green’s novel. “My favorite genre is realistic fiction, fiction and sometimes historical fiction. The reason I like fiction and realistic fiction is because you can kind of make up your own type of character, but it depends on the book.”
Children who read 16 books from the CLSC Young Readers historic book list, including Chautauqua: An American Utopia by Jeffrey Simpson, are eligible for a Young Readers Medallion Award. The award recognizes dedicated young readers with a certificate and a medallion — made possible by the donations of the John Bliss Memorial Fund and the CLSC Class of 2002.
As of Monday, Ella is one of nine young readers who were awarded with a certificate and a medallion this year. Nathan Reeder, Clay Hershey, Owen Weismann, Lauren Russell, Jane Potee, Vivienne Potee, Kara Enright and Nathalie Borden were also recipients.
“I don’t usually win awards, so I felt like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I actually read all of those books,’ ” Ella said. “But then again, I was kind of like, ‘I read all the time, so it’s not that big of an accomplishment for me to have read all that.’ ”
Pam Spremulli, Ella’s mother, said although reading is something both she and her husband enjoy passionately, it’s a love Ella has discovered on her own.
“She’s kind of her own bird as far as picking up the reading,” Pam said. “She gets her own book recommendations from her school and her friends. I think it’s important, but it’s kind of her thing that she does.”
The family lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and Spremulli grew up in Lakewood. Pam’s parents are CLSC graduates, and she’s trying to get her local book club to graduate together — they’ve got about nine books under their collective belt so far. Each summer, they return to Chautauqua for a few weeks, and the Young Readers program is something that came naturally to Ella and her 8-year-old sister.
“Ella’s outpassed me in all the reading,” Pam said. “That kind of comes full circle with the Young Readers program — when we went in there, it was like half the books she had already read. And that was really cool.”
Mary Pat McFarland has worked at the CLSC Veranda for five years. As a K–12 reading specialist in Pennsylvania, she considers herself a matchmaker of sorts.
“Kids will come in and they’ll want to know what to read, and I match books to readers,” McFarland said. “I go to work and I talk about books all day. I love it.”
The level of interest she sees in young readers is inspiring, and she’s happy to pair them with selections from CLSC lists. The books are carefully chosen to be appropriate for young readers, but also challenging in vocabulary, theme and content. A lot of readers are advanced, and parents might not want their 9-year-old reading teen literature, she said.
“The authors on this list have a craft to their writing,” McFarland said. “They match the interest, the genre, the vocabulary to their intended audience, and you know when it’s done right. This is like a greatest hits list of books — no question.”
Families in Chautauqua are known for being fervent readers, McFarland said, and they pass this on to their children and grandchildren.
“I think it’s the literate adult community that really transfuses books and passes that on,” McFarland said. “These are precocious readers.”
Peg Snyder, manager of the CLSC Veranda, said awarding kids with the medallion is a highlight of her job. The smiles are huge and the kids are always happy to have their picture taken with their awards, she said.
“I think it’s a pretty big deal,” she said. “They like the medallion, they like the certificate, and the program is supposed to lead them into the adult program. I think it encourages them.”
Matt Ewalt, associate director of education and youth services, said the Young Readers program is meant to serve as a bridge to the CLSC.
“The commonalities between the two is that, ultimately, it’s a program built around the celebration of reading,” Ewalt said. “This is a community of readers. It’s a community that values and celebrates reading, and also considers it to be such a meaningful and successful exercise.”
While Ella’s younger sister insists on reading the same book over and over again, Ella knows reading different books and genres is important.
“I would tell them to at least try reading one book from each genre, just to see if they like a certain one, and then they could start from there,” Ella said. “Sometimes, I like looking through picture books — especially ones that don’t have words — because then you can kind of make up your own story.”