The thought that she could help break a world record was enough to keep Cara Grimes awake past her bedtime. And all it required was something the 7-year-old likes to do anyway: read.
The second-grader at Hilltop Elementary School in Glen Burnie was among more than 500,000 children in 28 countries who took part in a publicity stunt Wednesday to simultaneously read two pages of Charlotte's Web at noon.
Organized by entertainment company Walden Media and publisher HarperCollins, the event was geared to promote Friday's release of Paramount Pictures' live-action movie. But schools, libraries, hospitals and community centers jumped at the opportunity to engage students in the E.B. White classic. Six schools in Anne Arundel County and at least 29 statewide participated.
Schools have until Jan. 3 to send in forms signed by witnesses and students to the Guinness Book of World Records to prove they participated. The current record for the most number of people reading at the same time is held by 155,528 British students, who read the William Wordsworth poem "Daffodils" in 2004.
Jane Anders, the library media specialist at Hilltop, couldn't coax students to read C.S. Lewis' series, The Chronicles of Narnia, until Disney released a movie version last year. Copies of the book flew off her shelves, she said.
She hopes the same thing will happen with Charlotte's Web. Anticipating a rush, Anders bought five extra copies of the book, along with a picture book version for younger students and a guidebook with movie stills.
"You've got all that hype - why not take advantage of it?" Anders said, referring to the commercials promoting the movie. "Whatever works, you latch onto it."
The Anne Arundel County Reading Council, a professional organization for reading teachers, sent an e-mail to schools about a month ago providing information about the event. The schools that participated were Hilltop, Annapolis Area Christian School, Eastport and Mills-Parole elementary schools in Annapolis, Glendale Elementary School in Glen Burnie and Meade High School on Fort Meade.
Several teachers said they didn't mind promoting the tale of a spider that befriends and saves the life of a pig named Wilbur.
"Charlotte's Web was my very first chapter book," said Keysha Riddick, a special-education teacher at Meade.
The chance to break a world record got her students excited about reading - an achievement for students who usually avoid it, Riddick said.
Her students, ages 14 to 21, have problems that make reading difficult, such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. Because most of the students had seen the 1973 animated movie, they had an easier time following the book, she said.
Riddick turned the 15-minute event into a day of trivia games and activities. She awarded gift cards as prizes for the right answers. The students couldn't stop talking about it the next day, Riddick said.
"They keep going around saying, 'We broke the world's record,'" she said.
At Eastport, reading teacher Pat McQuade went to each classroom with a Wilbur puppet to remind students to practice the reading.
"They were hugging and kissing him," McQuade said. "It's amazing, but even the older ones liked it."
Hilltop started to prepare students two weeks beforehand with daily announcements reminding them to practice. Students also watched the animated movie and did word searches and other activities that teachers downloaded from a Web site promoting the event.
At the designated time, Hilltop Principal Louise DeJesu read over the loudspeaker, while students read along with her in their classrooms.
Audrey Coppersmith walked around her second-grade classroom to make sure everyone was reading. Cara and the other students jiggled their feet under the desks and read slowly, stumbling over words such as gumdrop.
Coppersmith hopes students will read the rest of the book, even if it is a little challenging for her second-graders. She is considering whether to read the book to them in class.
"I think they really need to see the literature that's out there, so they're not constantly overwhelmed by Hollywood," she said.