SPRING HILL — When first-graders at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics gathered around their classroom rocking chairs recently for story time, they had a special guest as their reader — Florida first lady Ann Scott.
Mrs. Scott's visit was a result of an email to Florida schools from her office, offering visits.
"I thought it would be awesome," said first-grade teacher Sharon Twyman. "I didn't think these kids ever encountered a person titled as 'first lady.' "
The visit was set up to include all eight first-grade classes during three separate readings. The chosen book was Dr. Seuss' If I Ran the Zoo. The first-grade theme for the first six weeks of school is animals, their care at home and animal care careers.
The morning of Mrs. Scott's arrival, Twyman prepared her students by discussing who she is and what her husband, Gov. Rick Scott, does. It wasn't clear how much the children grasped about his job, but they seemed to like the first lady.
"It was exciting. She had nice reading," said 6-year-old Addison Carpenter.
"She wears pretty clothes," said Lauren Anderson, 6.
The book is an imaginative story about where the zookeeper will get his animals, full of difficult-to-say made-up words: "I'll hunt in the jungles of Hippo-no-hungus and bring back a flock of bippo-no-bungus! The bippo-no-bungus from Hippo-no-hungus are better than those down in Dippo-no-Dungus."
At first, Mrs. Scott struggled a bit, exclaiming, "This really works your tongue!" But by the third reading, she was sailing through the tongue-twisting tale.
She engaged the children while she read, asking if they had "cookermobiles" or elephant cats.
"I carry my elephant cat with me all the time," she said.
She had to think quickly when one child asked: "Where do you put all the stuff?"
"What stuff?" she inquired.
"From the book," he said. "You said you had it all."
When she was done, Mrs. Scott and her assistants distributed Florida-themed bookmarks. On the bottom was a photo of the first lady and the governor.
As she headed back to her car, Mrs. Scott said, "I loved reading growing up. I shared my passion for reading with my daughters."
She said she and the governor started a summer reading adventure literacy program.
"I decided to focus on reading and literacy as one of my initiatives," she said.
She apparently enjoyed her visit to Challenger, telling the children, "You all were a wonderful audience.
"That was a great book," she said, "and my mouth got a workout!"