As a father of two toddlers, Tampa Bay Lightning player Ryan Malone knows the rules of reading to children:
Show them the pictures, even if you're reading to hundreds of kids in a gymnasium and there's no way they can all see the book.
And if you mess up, just go with it. The kids might not notice.
Malone put these skills to work last week, reading to hundreds of Brooker Elementary students to encourage a love of books.
A parent group that holds monthly "Reading with Dad" events hosted the event with Malone, teammate Dominic Moore, coach Guy Boucher and mascot Thunderbug.
"Who likes the Berenstain Bears?" Malone, 31, asked.
Gasp. Hands shot up.
That's Malone's favorite, too.
His teammate, 30-year-old Moore, told the students that before he studied at Harvard University, he liked dinosaur books.
They giggled. They like dinosaur books, too!
• • •
Malone and Moore read The Magic Hockey Stick, a rhyming children's book. Accompanied by a dramatic interpretation by Thunderbug, they told the tale of a girl who gets Wayne Gretzky's hockey stick in an auction and uses it to become a star on the ice.
"Nobody noticed the name on the stick," they read, "but that very day I scored a hat trick."
Quick quiz: What's a hat trick?
"Um," one boy guessed excitedly, "I think it's when you hit it really hard to get past the goalie."
Close. The players explained how fans throw their hats into the rink after someone scores three goals, and Thunderbug tossed an orange plastic cone to illustrate.
Later, the athletes asked other reading comprehension questions, giving Lightning jerseys as prizes for correct answers: Who did the hockey stick belong to? Where did Wayne Gretzky play hockey?
Malone and Moore earned themselves some new young fans.
"They read really good," said second-grader Stosh Zattosky, 8. "They use more detail than what's in the book."
First-grader Kayla Moriarty, 7, reads bedtime fairy stories with her dad every night. This, she decided, was better.
Thunderbug swayed the vote.
"He's silly," she said with a shy smile.
With the crowd won over, the Lightning coach urged students to keep reading.
"Any of you play hockey?" asked Boucher, whose three kids attend Brooker.
Learning to play is just like learning to read, he said: You try, you stumble, you feel awkward.
"You get better and better," he promised them.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.