Sunday, January 15, 2017

Steps




I've been thinking about steps lately. I received an Up wristband for Christmas and I use it to track my activity throughout the day. I've read that 10,000 steps is a reasonable goal so I'm paying attention to the number of steps that I'm averaging each day. I'm a runner so on the days that I head outdoors for a run, it's pretty easy to achieve my goal. However, on some of these wintery, sub zero degree days, I have to be intentional about getting those steps in which I suppose is the whole point of the wristband. Last Saturday morning, I was lounging around the house, sipping coffee, reading and just hanging out. It was a really nice day until I checked on my steps.  I had only taken 300 by noon. My carefree reverie was shattered by the compulsion to get out there and start stepping. But wait a minute. While 10,000 steps is an accomplishment, maybe there's something to be said for a quiet morning at home. That may be just the thing to fuel the body and mind for the steps to come.




Fast forward to this Saturday, another chilly but sunny morning. I wanted to take my dogs out for a little fresh air. When I get the leashes out they jump around and bark like we're going to a party. We have a long driveway and my dogs are kind of wimpy when it comes to temperatures below 10 degrees so my plan was to just walk them up and down the road for 15 minutes. They enjoyed being out and once we went back indoors they seemed pretty content although we had only taken about 2,000 steps. Once again, while it's interesting to track how far I'm going, maybe I can learn something from my dogs. They really didn't care how far we went, they were just happy to get to go.




Part of my daily routine at school is to visit each of the classrooms and collect library books. It helps me get in some steps but it also gives me a unique perspective on what happens in our building. I typically stop by each classroom in the morning and it's a bit like being a mouse in the corner. I get a glimpse into the daily routines of our teachers and it's often inspiring. On Tuesday morning as I was strolling past the kindergarten, I overheard our kindergarten teacher telling his students how happy he was to see them. He carefully told them about the plans for learning in the day and he made it sound like a grand adventure. I'm so glad we have someone like him in front of our little ones modeling kindness and respect. As I continued my rounds to collect books, I walked into a 2nd grade classroom and was impressed by the little community of learning taking place inside. It may have been 10 below zero outside but it was cozy and warm in this classroom where a variety of learning activities were taking place. The teacher had created an environment where the kids were comfortably engaged as they quietly worked together in groups. If I hadn't slowed down to observe for a moment I would have missed this inspiring glimpse into their day. 




All this stepping gives me time to think and maybe I think too much. Lately the glaring headlines filled with bad news and bad behavior fill my thoughts. It leaves me feeling at a loss. It's easy to become discouraged. What can I do in such a world? Then I think about all those individual steps in the day that eventually add up to 10,000 or more. I gain inspiration from a kindergarten teacher who models compassion and caring. I'm encouraged by a 2nd grade teacher who shows up every day working to create a caring and comfortable learning community for her students. I love J.R.R. Tolkien's quote "It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love." Things such as these are what I need to direct my thoughts and my steps.  If each one of us takes small steps of kindness and respect and move in a forward direction we will really start to go someplace. These are the kind of steps worth taking and they will add up to something bigger than the headlines.



This week I've been reading Samson in the snow to the kids during library. It is the story of a wooly mammoth named Samson who wishes for a friend. A gentle giant who is tending to a dandelion patch and pulling weeds. At this point in the story the students like to point out that dandelions are weeds. My response is that Samson must think they are beautiful anyway. As Samson is weeding, a little bird comes along and asks if she can take some of his flowers to give to a friend who is having a bad day. Samson responds by giving her three of his best dandelions. She flies away leaving Samson to ponder what it would be like to have such a friend. As he ponders he becomes sleepy and falls asleep to dream of the color yellow. When he awakes he finds that a blizzard has blown in and turned the world white. He is instantly worried about the little bird who is ill suited for the extreme weather. Concerned, he decides to go look for her. As he travels he happens upon a little mouse who also has been caught up without shelter in the unexpected storm. Samson shelters the mouse as he braves the snow and cold to find the little bird. His resolve and compassion payoff as he finds the little bird just in time. The blizzard ends, the sun returns and Samson has found two new friends. Philip Stead is a favorite author of mine. The themes in his stories illustrate kindness, compassion and an appreciation of small and ordinary things. A wonderful model of finding beauty in the ordinary. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Solstice


The month of December often leaves me feeling torn by the things I want to do and the things I should do. I love the programs and plays and baking and decorating. Nothing is better than kicking back watching an old Christmas movie. Unfortunately, there is still plenty of work that needs to be done and most of it won't wait until January. The task is finding a balance of work and leisure. 



 I find that it can be a challenge to maintain that balance during the holiday season.  Not just for me in my personal life but also my professional life. I try to stick to the business of learning as much as possible in the week before Christmas vacation. Between program practices, art projects and a significant increase in sugar consumption my lessons are met with some resistance from my students.  I hoped that the winter trivia activity I had prepared would be light activity with some educational purpose. I introduced the lesson with as much enthusiasm as I could muster but sadly when I looked at the faces of my 5th graders rather than captivation, I was met with glassy-eyed stares. Undeterred, I continued the activity and tried to cheer them on as they reluctantly got to work. While the lesson may not have been as exciting as the snow outside, the kids seemed to settle in and for the most part did quite well.  Maybe I'm not the only one who appreciates some quiet activity as an escape from  an overload of hubbub.



Story time is another quiet activity that provides an opportunity for subtle lessons. I like to read books to the younger kids that emphasize the spirit of the season rather than more "Ho-Ho-Ho-ing!"  I'm very aware of the fact that many people do not enjoy a picture perfect Christmas. Many kids have more on their minds than visions of sugar plums.  They might be dealing with complicated family issues, money worries or the messiness of life in general. We all know these things don't magically disappear on December 25. I am all for holiday fun and celebration but there's also value in encouraging kids to think deeper. To consider sharing with others, to work to get along, to appreciate beauty in nature. These are the kind of practices that can bring lasting joy and peace not just during the holiday season but year round.  




This week I'm reading A Hat for Mrs. Goldman which is story about giving from the heart. Sophie is a little girl who has a generous neighbor by the name of Mrs. Goldman who knits hats for everyone. Everyone but herself. Sophie decides that she will try her hand at knitting a gift for her friend. It turns out to be a bit of a struggle but Sophie's perseverance and creativity result in a gift that delights. I like stories that model steadfastness and generosity. A perfect holiday read aloud.


The Great Spruce is another great choice for a holiday read aloud. A story about a boy named Alec who loves to climb trees with a particular favorite that is about to go to the chopping block. The great spruce is slated to be used as the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Alec's parents think that the use of the tree is an honor but he thinks differently so he comes up with a solution that makes everyone happy. In an note at the end of the book the author gives a brief background about the origin of the Christmas tree tradition as well as the history of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. 



Another book that I enjoy reading during this season is Mister Rabbit's Wish which is written by Colleen Monroe. It tells the story of an old rabbit who has been making the same journey each winter solstice to the Wishing Tree. On this winter evening he runs into various forest animals all intrigued by the thought of having their wishes granted by the Wishing Tree. Each animal wishes for material things and each one is astonished  when they discover what Mister Rabbit wishes for. They think that he has wasted his wish but he responds by telling them that each year he is rewarded with the gift of hope which is one of the greatest gifts of all. This is a wonderful story with illustrations that capture the beauty of the forest in winter.



Another gem is Rabbit's Gift which is written by George Shannon. It is the retelling of a chinese folktale about a rabbit who is happy to discover two turnips just as winter is approaching.  Content with one turnip he wants to share the other with a friend. In turn, this friend wants to share with another and so it goes until it comes full circle. This seasonal story has beautiful illustrations and instills the value of generosity and friendship.





As I write anticipating the coming winter solstice evening, darkness has it's longest rule. Lit candles and Christmas lights bear a striking contrast to the dark of the night. During Advent, we often say that "the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it". It's my hope that we strive to model for our children the spirit of this season. That our actions might demonstrate generosity, peace and love. Then our children will see that our customs have less to do with presents and glitz and more to do with compassion and kindness. Perhaps the best gift we can give our kids is the tradition of bringing light to a dark world.



I have found that it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.  J.R.R. Tolkien

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Bulletin Board for December, idea compliments of Pinterest.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Obliged


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I’ve been reading The Thank You Book to my students at school this past week. The Elephant and Piggie series has been a favorite in the library and I have trouble keeping copies on the shelves. There are twenty five books total and this one is slated to be the last. In this conclusion, Piggie wants to have a “Thank-o-rama” and aspires to be a ”thanking machine” by expressing her gratitude to everyone who is important to her. I read this story to my 5th grade students even though it’s geared for younger readers because it acknowledges favorite characters from past stories and these kids have grown up with these books. As I read, they exclaimed “There’s the snake!”,”I remember the pigeon!". I know a series is a good one when the characters have become recognizable friends. Mo Willems uses good humor and warmth to share important characteristics of friendship such as sharing and cooperation.
I chose The Thank You Book as my Thanksgiving read aloud because rather than focusing on turkeys or pilgrims, I like the idea of focusing on gratitude. After reading the story, I encouraged my students to think of people in their lives that they were thankful for and reminded them to tell these people how they feel. It’s easy to let time go by without expressing thankfulness, and not just for the people we care about. Stopping to watch the beauty of a sunrise, or stepping outside and breathing deeply of the fresh air. We are surrounded by beauty but if we spend too much time looking at screens, we miss it and the opportunity to be grateful. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it gives us pause for thought. A whole day devoted to gratitude. How great is that?


Another wonderful book that I like to share with my students during the weeks prior to Thanksgiving is Melissa Sweet’s Balloons over Broadway: The true story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. An account of the history behind the giant balloons in the Macy’s parade and the man who who had the tenacity to create these upside down puppets. Tony Sarg was a puppeteer who eventually developed the helium filled puppets that are now an iconic Thanksgiving tradition. I like to show my students a video clip of the parade highlighting some of their favorite characters prior to reading the story. What appeals to me the most is the portrayal of Tony Sarg’s creativity and persistence as he developed puppet designs that have been captivating crowds since the 1920’s. Author/illustrator Melissa Sweet has a flair for bring history to life and the richness and warmth of her illustrations are a perfect companion to the informative text. In addition to this book, I recently bought her newest book for the library and have enjoyed it so much, I’m buying a copy for my own shelf.

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In Melissa Sweet’s newest book, she has written and illustrated a beautiful story in Some Writer! The story of E.B. White. Sweet uses a combination of letters, manuscripts and photos along with her own collage to bring E.B.White’s history to life. Finding pleasure in words started at an early age for “Andy”. Prone to being “scrawny” and fearful” during his childhood, E. B. White found comfort in writing especially about his family, animals and the outdoors. He would later become a contributor at the The New Yorker and eventually author The elements of style. In 1945, Stuart Little was published, Charlotte’s Web in 1952 and The Trumpet Of The Swan in 1970.
Some Writer! provides a wealth of primary source material presented in a pleasing format that would appeal to all ages.

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Taking a moment to reflect on gratitude isn't something that should only happen once a year in November. We might all benefit from incorporating it into our daily routine. It's easy to feel grateful for our friends and family, good health, food on the table, a roof over our head, work that's satisfying, the beauty of nature. Perhaps it's those times when things aren't going well when we would benefit most from finding reason for thanks. I remember reading a post at marcandangel.com which told of the writer's grandmother who had written "Today, I'm sitting in my hospital bed waiting to have both my breasts removed. But in a strange way I feel like the lucky one. Up until now I have had no health problems. I'm a 69-year-old woman in the last room at the end of the hall before the pediatric divivison of the the hospital begins. Over the past few hours I have watched dozens of cancer patients being wheeled by in wheelchairs and rolling beds. None of these patients could be a day older than 17." It comes down to perspective. I remember some years ago sitting with my daughter and my mother who was recovering from a car accident in a nursing home/rehab facility. It was right before Thanksgiving and workers had done their best to decorate with paper turkeys and pumpkins but the hospital smells and sounds were hard to camouflage. At that time we started a nightly ritual of sharing our daily highs and lows. We each took a turn telling of an event that had taken place during the day that had been the most difficult occasion and then ended by sharing the brightest spot. That practice became a catalyst for healing the trauma and pain and loss. As we enter into this Thanksgiving week it's my hope that we might each take a moment to reflect on the people that mean the most to us and take it a step further and tell them how we feel. A hope that we might pause at the end of each day and reflect on a difficult moment considering lessons we might learn and finally, end with a moment we are grateful for. Gratitude makes each day brighter.


The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest. William Blake


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November bulletin board, idea adapted from one I saw on Pinterest


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Message in a bottle



A Child of Books is the collaborative effort of Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. The protagonist in the story calls herself a child of books who invites a friend to join her as they journey through a world of stories. The characters float across a sea of words, travel mountains of make-believe and get lost in a forest of fairy tales. Snippets from childhood classics are incorporated into the illustrations which celebrate storytelling.The handwritten prose is illuminated by the combination of watercolor and digitally created illustrations. Captivating vignettes accentuate the story fragments providing an opportunity to reminisce about childhood favorites. Truly an original testimonial to the power of words.



I was struck by the use of print as illustration in this book. There is something special about actual print on actual paper. Several weeks ago a friend and I hosted a bridal shower for my daughter. She received many beautiful and thoughtful gifts but one in particular brought a tear to her eye. We each wrote down favorite recipes on recipe cards and then included them with her other gifts. I had kept several recipes from her beloved grandma who had passed some years ago. I included one of her handwritten cards along with the ones I had written for her. My daughter recognized her grandmother's elegant script at once, her penmanship a remembrance of the beautiful soul that rendered it. Cellphone texts are handy but they are a poor substitute for the written word. Wouldn't it be novel if we thought of more ways to use words as gifts?


Another ode to the power of words is a picture book I'm sharing with my students called The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles. I would have purchased this book for the brilliant title alone, not to mention it is illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Erin Stead. Michelle Cuevas is the author and her lyrical text is a pleasing accompaniment to Stead's soft and wispy artwork. The story begins at the side of the ocean with a man devoted to gathering messages from ambling bottles and delivering them. The uncorker of bottles loves his job but mleads a solitary life and wishes that there might be a bottle somewhere intended for him. One day he receives a bottle with an invitation to a party but no recipient is mentioned. As the uncorker travels to inquire with townspeople about possible clues he finds that they too are intrigued with the idea of a party but have no insights to share. He finally decides to go to the party himself so he can return the message to the author. He doesn't solve the mystery of the bottle but has great fun mingling with others at the party. He learns firsthand that it's relationships between people that bring life to the words in the bottles. This book caused me to pause.
If I were marooned on an island and wanted to send a message in a bottle to loved ones, what would I say? Imagine I only had one chance, one bottle and one little slip of paper. This I'm sure of, I know my words would be chosen thoughtfully, carefully and intentionally. What a contrast to the way words are used today. If I had only one message to give to my loved ones I would want it to read like a gift, a treasure to be read and reread. One moment though...why would I wait to be alone on an island to be careful with words? Why would any of us? But look around, hateful signs, rude bumper stickers, impulsive Facebook posts, hasty texts. Oh, the damage we do with words. Our kids are not immune from the venom. I had several 5th grade girls working on a project together in the library the other day. Two of them had different ideas as to how the project should be done. Their disagreement escalated to ugly name calling and eventually tears. I gave them time to cool off and then met with them later in the day to try to resolve the issue. The one thing we could all agree on is that words have the power to hurt. Time and care with words bring far less painful results.

We don't spend a lot of time on penmanship in schools anymore and I understand that keyboarding is perhaps more practical in today's world of electronic communication. Just like timings I used to to do in my high school typewriting class, accuracy and speed are the goal. Our frenzied communication doesn't lend itself to much thoughtfulness though. Sit back and watch people as they text, the speed is impressive. Conversely, the beauty of pen meeting paper is the slower pace of the activity. Time for deliberation and thought and giving the brain time to engage before print actually happen. It's less emotional, more intentional. When I share stories like the ones above with our kids, it's my hope that they are seeing beauty in words and the good they can do. Words that are chosen thoughtfully, carefully, intentionally, like a message in a bottle.


“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.” Jodi Picoult

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In the library this month, Back to school bulletin board, I adapted the idea from Pinterest

Friday, May 13, 2016

Word collection



I’m reading a story this week that is about a little boy named Max who loves words. He has two older brothers, Benjamin who collects coins and Karl who collects stamps. Max collects words. When his brother Benjamin puts all the stamps together that he's collected, he just has a pile of stamps. When his brother Karl puts all his coins together, he just has a pile of money. But when Max puts all his words together, he has a thought. At first, Max’s brothers aren’t impressed with Max’s word collection. As he cuts words out of magazines and newspapers his collection grows and grows. Pretty soon, even his brothers get caught up in the fun of putting words together. While collections of stamps or coins are fine, collections of words build stories. The possibilities are endless. Max’s words by Kate Banks is a fine example of the power of words. 
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After reading the story, I gave my 2nd grade class old newspapers, index cards, scissors and glue and let them find words that made them feel good. After several minutes of cutting, students were asking me if they could put the words together to form sentences. This had been my hope all along but much better to let them think it was their idea. A simple activity that the kids were completely engaged in. I love watching kids having fun with words.






It's amazing how a well chosen word can either melt a heart or break it.
Growing up I lived on a country farm and would take the bus into town to go to school. At that time I seemed to have a little trouble getting out of the door on time so the bus driver gave me the nickname "Speedy". He would always give me a little honk as I scurried onto the bus. I didn't mind the short bus ride and loved going to school. However there's one unhappy ride that has stuck with me for more years than I care to admit. On this day I went skipping out to the bus, delighted to be wearing an outfit passed down to me by my favorite cousin, I took a seat in front of a group of girls. The bus driver had barely put his foot on the gas when I heard the jeers. "What is she wearing?" , "All her clothes look like they're homemade." , "I can't believe she's wearing that." By the time we got to school, I trudged into the building, completely deflated. I've never been a poker face and the heartache must have showed on my face because my dear teacher asked at once what was wrong. I really didn't want to tattle and was too embarrassed to let her know what had happened but she gently persisted. I finally burst into tears and said that people were making fun of my clothes. Forty years later, I still remember those hurtful words. Fortunately, I also remember the consoling words of an empathetic teacher.
Imagine if, like Max in the story, we collected words like they were a treasure and only used select ones for special occasions? What if we were to gather them carefully and tuck them away for the perfect moment? Suppose we were to use the same care we might take in buying a gift but bestow a thoughtful phrase instead? Sadly, we are too often reckless with our words. Hastily spoken, carelessly hurled like a pebble in a brook causing ripples that go on and on. Fortunately we have a choice in the words we collect and how we use them.
Melting hearts or breaking them. It's our choice.


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May bulletin board in the library

Friday, April 15, 2016

Wings and song



One of my favorite things about April is the return of the songbirds. Lately we have a lively menagerie of birds in our yard. Filling the bird feeders is now part of our daily routine. I love their company. Their cheery song, the perky way they hop around on the ground and flit about in the trees, it’s uplifting. I  wonder, do birds ever feel uninspired or sad? I notice that they get a little cranky when it comes to sharing their food but the little guys in my yard seem to be a pretty congenial group.



    Happy they may be, but life can be hard for a bird. The other morning an unsuspecting robin flew into our living room window. Stunned, yet unharmed he sat dazed for a moment, perched on our deck rail. My daughter and I were watching him, relieved that he had survived the ordeal unscathed. Without realizing the near tragedy that had just taken place, my husband opened the door leading out to the deck letting the dogs out. We watched, horror struck, as my dog Champ raced around the deck, jumped up and chomped down on the stunned robin. As my daughter and I hopped around shrieking like fools, my husband went charging out the door in a valiant effort to save the bird. Although my dog came in with feathers dangling from his mouth, we think the bird got away. We could find no trace of him and unless Champ ingested him whole. Ugh, what a tragic turn of events. The whole experience leads me back to my original pondering. Did that robin dust himself off, find a new branch to perch on, one far from a window, ready to sing a song? I like to think so. Didn’t Emily Dickinson write that “hope is the thing with feathers.” ? I realize she wasn’t talking about an injured robin but isn’t there something hopeful about a bird? When we go to our local hardware store to pick up yet another bag of birdseed, I notice that there are many bird feeders and a variety of feed to choose from. It must be a lucrative business. Evidently, there’s a lot of us aspiring to attract birds to our yards. Maybe we all need a little hope.




If listening to birds sing is good for the heart, watching them fly is good for the soul. Several years ago I was helping to coach a cross country team. There were roughly 50 kids at practice on this particular day, ages six to twelve or so. We had finished running and were sitting in a large circle on the grass in the playground yard, stretching and cooling down. The kids were chattering and not quite as focused on stretching as we would have liked when all of a sudden a large eagle flew directly over our circle. The entire group stopped what they were doing and looked up. For one short period of time we were all simultaneously captivated by the grace and power of wings in flight. It was a magnificent moment. Yet, it isn’t just the grandeur of a big bird in flight that is fascinating. I can spend hours watching tiny hummingbirds. I admire such fierce tenacity in an itty-bitty body. Inspiration abounds in a variety of sizes and shapes adorned with feathers.


So why all my ramblings about birds? We are surrounded by beauty but we miss it if we don't look up. We spend our days hunched over our steering wheels, our cell phones, our computers. A million different interruptions and distractions sucking us dry. While we pay attention to such things, what are we missing? It's not just the birds. How often do we allow our phones to distract us from the actual people in front of us? We might all benefit from counteracting all the electronic bombardment by actually lifting our face up to feel the sun and to have the chance to catch a glimpse of beauty somewhere besides a screen. What is the subtle message we are giving our kids? Do they believe they are only worthy of half our attention? On the flip side, I worry about our connected kids and how much they might be missing out on. In their young lives, what is consuming the majority of their time and attention? I believe it is worth monitoring. It is our responsibility as adults to be role models and to help them find a balance so they keep looking up.
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Telephone by Mac Barnett is a witty look at how a message passed from a mother bird  and intended for her son on the far end of a telephone wire, gets all mixed up. She relays the message to the bird on the line next to her, which is then passed to the next bird and so on. Each bird hears a different message influenced by their own interests and as the message is passed further down the line it becomes increasingly ridiculous. Each high interest page depicts a brightly colored bird, busy with various activities. Young readers will have a good time guessing the hobby of each. This is a fun twist on an old game but it's the illustrations that are most appealing in this book.

Shh! We have a plan written and illustrated by Chris Haughton, follows the shenanigans of three characters with nets and a plan to catch a bird. Following behind them is a quiet companion with a different idea, preferring to offer his outstretched hand to each saying"hi birdie". The three with a plan to capture the bird comically fail with each attempt, while the gentle little companion at the rear attracts a multitude of birds with his generosity and calm. The bold, colorful artwork along with the humor of the story will make it a favorite with children. 


This National Geographic Field Guide is a great resource for young bird enthusiasts. It features over one hundred species of birds with colorful photographs and facts for each including habitat, food source and physical description. A name index makes it easy to use and it would be a good pocket field guide for birders grades 4th through 8th.

Birds Nests and Eggs is a take-along guide that features fifteen bird species which provides a good start for kids just beginning to identify birds. Color illustrations accompany each page which gives basic information about the birds, their nests and eggs. There are fun activities for bird enthusiasts included, along with a seven page scrapbook for note taking and sketches.
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The more often we see the things around us - even the beautiful and wonderful things - the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world: the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds - even those we love. Because we see things so often, we see them less and less.
Joseph B. Wirthlin



Friday, March 11, 2016

Tell me a story...

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” 
― Philip Pullman


I made arrangements to have a local author/illustrator come and visit with our students at school. He met with individual classes and spoke for about 50 minutes. He calmly played his harmonica as the students filed into the library for his presentation. They didn’t so much as make a peep as they sat down. It made me want to sign up for harmonica lessons because the kids rarely enter that quietly during our normal library class. The author’s name was Dave Spangler and other than the harmonica the only prop he had was a few pictures from his book. He didn’t read outloud, he didn’t have a power point, he spoke without adornment as he shared a story with the kids. They were captivated. In a culture that elevates elaborate video games and 3D movies, it pleases me to see kids enchanted by simple things. Dave conversed with the kids and shared stories of his childhood. Nobody in his story was blown up or transported to another world, there were no special effects, but he emphasized the value of family and helping others and the kid were engrossed.




As parents and teachers we too can share our stories and they don’t have to be grandiose. How I wish I knew more of the stories of my grandparents and parents growing up years. I know that my grandfather and his brothers were hard working yet were very poor, trying hard to keep their small ranch going after their father was hit with a debilitating illness. Once a month their father would let them host a rodeo on their property using their livestock. People would show up from miles around bringing food to share and would stay after the afternoon rodeo and dance in the barn into the evening. I remember my grandpa’s eyes would shine as he recalled those days of his youth and the image of him riding and dancing is etched in my mind. I wish I knew more details, who was the best cowboy, what did they eat, what was the music like? As adults, we need to share our stories with kids. They will marvel about how life was before computers and the internet. What may seem insignificant to us will be of interest to them. When our guest author told my students about clamming on the beach they were fascinated. There is a richness to storytelling, it’s a wonderful way to carry on traditions.

At school, when I begin a lesson by sharing a personal experience from my life it seems to engage my students, and I don’t lead a particularly exciting life. Yet, they’re interested to hear about how I dropped my cell phone not once but three times in the last month. They like to hear that my son wanted to eat nothing but broccoli when he was two. They think it’s funny that I once lost my flip flops while hanging upside down on a carnival ride. The stories we share don’t have to include stolen treasure or flying dragons, authenticity is key.


As a teacher, I want to encourage my students to ask meaningful questions of the people they love. This stems from the regret I have of missed opportunities in my own life. I would give anything to know more about my grandma’s childhood, the things she loved to do and what made her happy. When she was alive, I didn’t think to ask those questions. Now that she’s gone, I long to know the person she was, but like a book with missing pages the story is incomplete.


The questions we ask don’t need to be reserved for older people. The stories we share don’t need to be reserved for young children. Face to face, meaningful discussion and the sharing of stories is worth the effort it takes. Undistracted family, spouse and friend time devoted to conversation requires some planning. Between busy schedules, TV shows, video games and social media we don’t  have a lot of time for face to face conversing. When my daughter was in school we used to check in with each other in the evening by sharing the high point and low point of the day. These highs and lows were usually not monumental events yet they were significant because they impacted our day. To share these events with each other not only made us closer, it was good therapy. Sometimes those conversations led to giggles, sometimes to tears.  It wasn’t exactly storytelling but it gave us a chance to reflect on meaningful moments and share them with each other.


I was at a conference today where one of the presenters suggested the stacking of devices when they aren’t necessary or in use. He advised having students shut the lids on laptops in the classroom when they’re not needed for learning so the distraction is removed. The same idea would be applicable at home, stacking the iphones so they aren’t available during dinner time or for an hour afterwards so dialogue without diversion can take place. Long ago, storytelling happened naturally as a source of entertainment or education. Now we have to be intentional in creating a time and place to share stories. Texts, emails, posts and  tweets may all have merit but even with emojis they don’t convey ideas as well as facial expressions and the intonation of a voice. The soul of the person just doesn’t shine through electronically as it does in person. If I had one more chance to hear one of my grandfather’s stories, I’d want to be fully present. He would be worth putting the phone away for. Aren’t we all?


One of my favorite books about the power of storytelling is Clever Jack takes the cake which is written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Jack is a resilient boy who when invited to a birthday party for the princess is undaunted by the fact that he has no money for a gift. He uses the resources he has and makes her a beautiful birthday cake. As he proceeds towards the castle with the gift he encounters a variety of unexpected challenges which lead to the demise of his cake. Once he arrives at the castle empty handed, he observes that the princess is bored by all the traditional gifts given to her by rich guests. When it's Jack's turn to give his gift he confesses that he has no gift and then tells her the story of his adventures. She is delighted with his original tale and a new friendship is born. This is a wonderful example of resiliency and the value of a well told story.


Allen Say's Kamishibai Man tells the story of the lost art form of paper theater. Kamishibai men were traveling storytellers who would travel on bikes transporting miniature theaters that they would then use to share stories with children. This is another moving account of the value of storytelling and the impact it can make on people's lives. Say's illustrations bring this reminiscent story to life.