'The Help' Star Octavia Spencer Lends Hand to SAG Foundation's BookPals Initiative

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“Are you the actress from The Help?”

It’s a crisp morning in Los Angeles, and a young student in uniform is welcoming visitors to the Crescent Heights Language Arts/Social Justice Magnet School. It’s a big day: The elementary school is welcoming actress Octavia Spencer of The Help as the latest ambassador of BookPals, the SAG Foundation’s 18-year-old literacy program.

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“The red carpet is over here,” offers another student, pointing toward the school’s courtyard, on which a red carpet (OK, red butcher paper) lines the walkway for today’s special guest.

Moments later, 360 or so kids stand with their teachers to greet Spencer, who high-fives the crowd as she makes her way inside the library. As 60 or so fifth-graders get settled inside, two devoted BookPals volunteers observe the scene.

“It’s the best part of my week, coming to school to read,” says actor Bruce Schroffel. He is chatting with fellow SAG member Robin Roy, who says there are 300 participating schools in Southern California, from Oxnard to Irvine. “Though IMDb has kind of ruined the surprise a bit because now they all know what we look like before we get there,” says Roy.

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By 11 a.m., Spencer has everyone’s attention. “You’re so cute! OK, who saw my movie?” she asks the crowd as a sea of hands are raised. “Great. Can you all promise me one thing? Never, ever do what Minnie did with that pie!” The students shout “Yes!” in unison, and Spencer dives into reading The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth.

Spencer, a native of Montgomery, Ala., says her BookPals reading was more than she imagined. “I was a huge reader growing up — it’s why I went into this field,” she says. “I was so moved by the kids’ enthusiasm. I wish this experience for all my peers.”

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