Monthly Archives: July 2014

Rooting For A Friend

When Cece Bell told someone on Twitter she had a few extra ARCs of El Deafo looking for a good home, I jumped in and said I had room in my home and heart for El Deafo. I had heard so many rave reviews, and although the book is not slated for release until September 2, I would do anything to get my hands on a copy as soon as I could.

To my delight, Cece had a copy and was willing to send me one (and I wish I could express my thankfulness adequately). Today, it arrived. I am a SLOW reader, but the minute I started this book, I knew I would not be able to do anything else until I was finished. It drew me in and did not let me go until the final page. Wait, I take that back- it still has not let me go. I am still thinking about it.

In this graphic novel, we get a glimpse of what life is like for Cece as a child. She loses her hearing before first grade because of an illness. She can still hear, but needs the help of a device for clarity and understanding. She must also learn to read lips.

Throughout the rest of the book, I was cheering Cece on as she progressed through elementary school. Friends came. Friends went. (The teacher in me wanted to pull some of those “friends” aside and have a little talk). I was very angry when Mike broke her pencil. Fuming when the PE teacher dropped the microphone.

Cece encountered new challenges, but always overcame them. She was a girl who could have had a negative attitude about life, but always strove to go forward.

The ARC’s front cover is full of positive blurbs about the book, and the one that struck me the most was from R.J. Palacio. She said, “….one that made me want to root for Cece Bell the little girl, and find Cece Bell the grown-up to become her instant best friend.”

That’s exactly how I felt. I felt like I knew Cece personally after reading the book. When I was done, I wanted to find her so I could give her a hug. She seems like a person I’d love to sit down over coffee with and talk about life.

I teach first grade, and this isn’t a book for first graders, but I plan to advocate that it gets placed into our school library, and I will recommend it to any upper elementary/middle school student who will listen.

I know there are children out there who will see themselves in this book. Those who are different. Those who have ever lost a good friend to a misunderstanding. Those who have felt like the odd one out. But there are also children who will read this book, and it will be a window for them to see life from another point of view.

This book will be in my heart for a long time. I hope some day I do have the chance to meet Cece. I will give her a hug. I will ask for her autograph. I will ask to take a picture (as is regular protocol for when I meet an author), but then I will want to talk, because she feels like a friend of mine after I read this book.

I hope you have a copy pre-ordered from somewhere. I have a feeling that this book is going to be tagged as a winner among teachers, students, and readers everywhere.

Thank you, Cece, for sharing your story. It touched me.

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Encouraged

This is the first summer I’ve had since a child where I have had more free time than work. Ever since late junior high, I’ve had a job. Last summer I did a lot of traveling and hosted a two week reading camp. This summer I traveled a little, and decided not to do the camp, so I’ve found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. 

That’s not to say that there are plenty of other things to keep me busy. A messy apartment cries for my attention. I presented in Nebraska and I’m working on two more presentations for this fall. I’m working on planning for our 2014 Literacy Festival and seeking donors. And then there are my grad courses, which include a lot of writing. I’m going to be helping Debbie Diller with a portion of her upcoming book. And of course, a teacher’s brain never really shuts off, so I’ve been getting things ready for the new school year (which begins for students in about 43 days).

Summer also leaves a lot of room for time to think. I’ve found myself wondering about my students- past and upcoming. I guess I could go as far as saying I worried a little bit… I wonder if …. is reading. Or I hope …. has found good books for himself over the summer. I know we talked a lot about keeping up our reading over the summer in class, and I really encouraged parents to do their part, too.

So when I got a Facebook message the other day with a photo attached, I was thrilled. It was from a parent of a student this past year. There she was, underneath a shade tree on a hot day, ensconced in huge pillows with a Geronimo Stilton in hand.

Yesterday, another parent posted a picture of a reading corner she set up in her house, and there was another student curled up with her siblings. I commented, and the mom replied, saying she thought I would like this, and that this student has been reading to her siblings all summer. 

As I mentioned earlier, we are seeking donors to sponsor visiting authors in November. I went and presented at a local chapter meeting, and a parent came with and brought her daughter. Her daughter was going to share how much meeting authors this past year meant to her. I was happy to hear it, but I was caught by surprise when she was giving her speech, and pulled out the most beautiful illustrations of dogs. She shared that she has been authoring a book about her dog, and was going to self-publish on Amazon when she finished. This was a work of heart. Not a story she slapped together in a few minutes or even days… She was inspired by the authors and wanted to do the same.

So I have been left wondering how to feel. I am proud- very proud, yes. But I am looking for a different word. I am happy- very happy to see these kinds of things. I guess the word I am looking for is encouraged. While these are only a few of my students, I’m encouraged- deeply. 

Because, looking at those pictures, I don’t think that those girls were reading because someone said they had to.

The girl under the tree could have plopped down in a chair and read- but she wanted a rich experience. The other girl could have spent her time reading to herself, but instead she wanted to share that experience with her siblings. Hearing the girl speak, I don’t think that she made the book because someone asked her to. She was inspired, she knew she had a story to tell, and so she did what any writer would do- get to work on putting it down on paper.

They all did it because, somewhere in their hearts, they were inspired. This is an inspirational love that we can’t teach or force. We can’t teach a heart to love books, but we can certainly encourage it. 

What we hold in our hands all year are the hearts of our students. By drowning them in book choices, reading to them regularly, sharing our joys, and just letting them fall in love with a book, we are tugging at the strings of inspiration in their hearts. We don’t have to do much work- the books and the authors take care of that. We just have to create the environment and make sure that we aren’t making any restrictions which might prevent this natural inspiration to occur.

These girls encourage me- to do more. More reading, more writing. I don’t know what I was so worried about. When we give our kids books and let them read, the magic happens.