Buffalo News

Llamas in schools, llamas in libraries, and most of all, llamas in pajamas.

No doubt about it, Thursday was a big day for llamas.

The sudden popularity of the large, gentle animals resulted from Read for the Record, a national campaign to draw attention to literacy and an attempt to set a world record for the largest number of people reading the same book the same day. The picture book "Llama Llama Red Pajama" by Anna Dewdney was read throughout the day at wide variety of events, and several llamas participated locally.

Nearly 28,000 area children this year pledged to read "Llama" on Thursday at gatherings in schools and libraries, in family groups and at after-school programs, as well as at churches, bookstores and home-based day care operations. That was twice the number of participants last year.

At the educational farm of the SPCA Serving Erie County in the Town of Tonawanda, Clarissa, a 300-pound brown llama with extravagant eyelashes, was led to the front of the barn before dozens of wide-eyed children seated in a semicircle of hay bales. Clarissa, who came to the SPCA from Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, wore bright red pajamas on her front legs and chest with a stuffed bunny.

Sheila Foss, who wore red footie pajamas, and Patricia Burg, who wore a red robe, led Clarissa to the children.

"Reading brings books alive," said Anne Ryan, executive director of Read to Succeed Buffalo, a nonprofit organization focused on increasing early-childhood literacy. "We're hoping to create excitement with the story. It was an opportunity to make the words come alive and to tie the language into actual experiences."

Professional storyteller Merri Lee Debany added plenty of drama to the best-seller about a baby llama who has a meltdown at bedtime when his busy mama does not respond to his call immediately.

As Debany emoted the escalating distress of the baby llama who "hollers loudly for his mama," two curious goats, Rip-Snort and Rupert James, first hung their heads over their wooden stall and then stepped up onto the rungs of the door to get a better look. Also paying attention were 30 children, including kindergartners from Buffalo's School 53 and younger children from the SPCA's preschool story hour.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for these children," said Deborah Porter, community outreach coordinator of Read to Succeed Buffalo. "Many of them have never seen a llama."

 At the end of the visit, every child received a hardcover copy of "Llama Llama Red Pajama," donated by Dr. Gerald and Jeanne Sultz and their daughter, Rebecca, longtime volunteers at the SPCA's educational farm.

This year's local campaign more than doubled last year's participation.

Thursday's events included celebrity readers in schools, older students reading to younger ones and llama visits.

At Cleveland Hill Elementary School in Cheektowaga, more than 650 students were visited by Coropuna, a showy white llama with a brown markings from Hemstreet Farm in East Aurora.

"He literally walked the halls of the school, wearing his red pajamas," said Linda Beck, a first- and second-grade special education teacher. "We had all the children line up in the halls, and every child in our school was able to touch the llama if they wanted to. He was gorgeous."

"It was incredible; he went up and down the stairs and the elevator," said Michael Sheridan, owner of Hemstreet Farms. "He wore the pajamas the entire morning and never complained. He really trusts me, so that's the whole story."

Coropuna followed his busy morning with an appearance at the Niagara Branch Library on Porter Avenue, where the book was read for 120 students from School 3 and the Holy Cross Head Start program. Another llama from Hemstreet named Ttica -- all the Hemstreet llamas have Inca words for names -- was scheduled to stop in for reading sessions at the East Aurora Library and the Dudley Branch Library in South Buffalo.

The Child Care Resource Network on Hertel Avenue was host to guest readings by Mayor Byron W. Brown, Buffalo Zoo President Donna Fernandes and Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams, as well as a visit from Tungurahua, a llama that lives at Hemstreet Farms but is owned by Diane Farish.

And those pajamas? The llamas don't mind them at all. "They do have costume classes for llamas at llama shows," Foss said. "So it's not unusual at all to see llamas wearing clothing."