It’s freezing outside. Below 0′ freezing. It’s been that way for two weeks. As I came in from letting the chickens out this morning I took a minute to stop, look up, and marvel at how beautiful the day is, and think about my nErDy book experience last night. Then the bitter cold won and back inside I came to start my day.
It’s going to be a great day because my son is coming up. But that also means that I can’t go to the nErDy Book Camp down in Falmouth. While I’m excited to see my son I’m disappointed that I can’t be there. As I sit here writing about my trip to the nErDy Authors’ Night last night and follow the tweets coming out of the day down there today, I find myself reflecting on what an awesome night it was. It was ….mind blowing. Really, it was.
Let me start with a little background to set the stage for some of the things I’m going to say about what I observed and how I felt. Because these feelings are shrouded in a confusion of emotions. I teach at a small school in a middle sized town in Maine. While the school has an urban feel, I hesitate to use that word because when I think of urban I think of Boston or NYC. But yet it is the perfect word to describe our school. We are situated on blacktop in a neighborhood that is trying to stay afloat. No grass in sight, well there’s a little patch on the other side of the fence. We are a very old brick building that was designed for high school kids one hundred years ago. The building and the classrooms are small. No fancy anything.We are a high poverty school. Actually, according to Donor’s Choose we are a “highest” poverty school. Many of our kids struggle with food security and a variety of family structure challenges. We are a small urban school in a mid-sized Maine town. And like the title of Cynthia Lord’s book, half a chance, I want my kids to have, at least, half a chance.
As Liz, a fabulous middle school librarian and close friend, and I drove the hour and some minutes from central Maine down to Falmouth we discussed our week, books we’re reading, family. We never discussed or even thought about the night ahead of us except that we were excited to go listen to some favorite authors. When we pulled into the Falmouth School complex we were stunned by the grandeur that spread out before us. I felt like I was driving into a Metropolitan Art Museum complex complete with major glass, colorful art, and sculptures, well maybe not sculptures but I felt for sure there must be some somewhere! As I looked with amazement at the beauty of the buildings that sprawled before us I felt an incredible sadness that felt like someone just punched me in the gut. I realized with all of my being that my kids would never have anything remotely close to this educational experience. And I felt sad, really sad. When we walked into the school, the sadness didn’t lift. It just sat in the core of my belly. What unfolded before us as we walked into the cafeteria was nothing short of amazing to me. People, lots of people, adults and children, mingling, and looking at, and holding books. Lots of books. Kids’ books. And all the people there were all so happy. So engaged with the books. The books and their authors and illustrators made all the families so happy. And that’s when the sadness in my gut took on a whole new dimension.
I remembered when I first read Goodnight Moon to my students (my kids) and how surprised I was that so many of them didn’t know the book. “How is that even remotely possible?”I thought. How can a child make it to ten years old and not intimately know Goodnight Moon? It is THE classic little child’s night time read aloud. I mention this because it gives us an insight into the role of books in the lives of many of my kids. Or should I say, lack of a role. The importance of reading to babies and toddlers is something that my kids struggle to understand. “They can talk yet!” they say. “They can’t even understand what you are saying!” they also say. Conjuring up the feelings that come with being read to by a loving adult is something many of them struggle to relate with.
So there I was, in a majestic room, in a majestic school, filled with majestic books and families who loved and valued them. I cried. Seriously. I cried. And then I roamed, mingled, and had an absolutely, fabulous time talking to authors, buying books, and savoring the image of families and children loving books.
Let me ask, that after you hug your child and share a book, that you think about how you can share a book with a kid who doesn’t have one. And thank you Liz for buying a book for my kids.
PS – I wish I could be there today learning how to better bring books and the worlds they create to my kids.