A story of hope (and books)

If you’re reading this, you already believe that books and readers matter. So I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. But in times when it feels like the whole world is losing its mind, it helps to be reminded that you aren’t the only one who believes in the power of reading. Of thinking. Of empathy and building communities and alliances.

Can I tell you a story?

There were more than a few times in the past year when I wondered if I could possibly be the only one who believed. Voices at school fretted that ‘these books’ were ‘too hard’ for young readers. By too hard they meant they were books that might make children feel, think, question, or talk. “Shouldn’t we avoid these books and choose something more appropriate?’ they prodded with authority.

I was flummoxed. And disheartened. And wholeheartedly opposed. But I felt alone and like my one voice was too small.

So I turned to Twitter where my fellow book people reside. I learned of #ProjectLitCommunity and I started to plan for the fall. I got my hands on books from their reading list that would definitely be frowned upon and suppressed in my community. And I wondered how to get them to readers who would feel and think and question and talk…and pass them on.

But I continued to feel alone in the work.

I traveled half way across the country to #ILA18 in Austin. Arriving by myself, I felt alone at first. But speaker after speaker, and conversation after conversation with strangers and colleagues showed me that none of us are alone in this. We may need to reach each other beyond the doors of our classrooms or schools. But we are many and we are dedicated to readers and the lives of children.

Sara Ahmed’s words in my institute Friday and Cornelius Minor’s words in the keynote Saturday reached into my heart and rekindled a spark. Authors fanned the flames with their words on the page and in those rooms. Publishers added kindling with their book buzz and advanced reader copies. Colleagues from CRA (Connecticut Reading Association) listened, shared their resolve and their ideas.

Alas. It was time to return home to stand strong on my own.

As I settled into my seat on the plane, I pulled out the ARC I’d been looking forward to the most: Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes. And I began to read. And feel. And think. And question. Until I had to write.

So here I am.

If you believe that books and readers matter, (and if you’re still reading I suspect you do) then this book will make you do the same. We aren’t alone. We teachers and librarians can make a difference by sharing books that help children see themselves and a bigger world, nurture awareness and empathy, books that make their hearts contract with emotion and ultimately expand. And in doing so, we may find that those readers can light up the world!

I have a feeling I may read this copy to shreds, but I have another copy that’s about to embark on a journey. Maybe it will reach you.

This week restored my hope and my resolve. I have dreams…and plans. It turns out, I’m a rebel librarian.

Are you?

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#SOL Bumping Into Books

Happy summer slicing!

It’s vacation and a time when I look forward to reading, but books can still surprise us. Today found us at a water park with family–not somewhere I expected to have book encounters.

Early in the day as I walked through one section of the park I noticed a girl sitting huddled over. I glanced back over my shoulder to confirm if I was really seeing it. Sure enough…she was sitting with a kindle. Reading. As bells clanged, fountains splashed, and crowds buzzed all around her. I silently cheered her and continued on with a smile.

Later this afternoon when the heat had settled in and my boys were off on a water slide, I slipped my phone out of my bag and reflexively checked my school email. (I know, but I was working as recently as yesterday and we’re still trying to wrap up book orders.) Was that…? An alert from Kidblog about a post pending approval. I hadn’t seen one of those in a few months since our blogging workshop ended. I clicked over to the site and sure enough, there was a post pending from one of our Reading Ambassadors. At our summer reading kickoff assembly, I’d invited the ambassadors to keep blogging, writing, reaching out about books. And she did! Not only that, when I looked more closely, she’d written three posts today, each reviewing a different book she’s read on vacation. Way to go, Alana!

The final book encounter is the one that touched my heart the most.  My older son is a dormant reader. (He used to read avidly. Required reading assignments, 6-week-long class novels, etc. drove him away from books for a long time.) Last winter I visited R.J. Julia’s, a fantastic independent bookstore in Madison, CT and spent half an hour chatting books with their knowledgeable and friendly staff in the YA section. I came home with three books for him based on their suggestions. I produced them one by one, some with fanfare and others stealthily left near his place at the table for him to bump into. Last week when school finally ended, I had a chance to read one. He still hadn’t cracked the cover. Since then I left it in view, oohed and ahhed about it and pitched it to his brother. Then today, very casually, he mentioned something from the book! He’s not entirely sold yet, but he’s only a few chapters in (it gets good in chapter 5). My heart fluttered hopefully. If Invictus gets him reading again, even a little, I’ll be thrilled.

So there you have it. Three times summer book magic!

 

Happy Reading!