So if you are a voracious children’s book addict, you often experience the world in relation to images and phrases in children’s books. If you have a blog called There’s a Book for That, you absolutely do . . . Some of you, I know, are with me. Yes?
“Shhh!” I often exclaim, “I have a plan.” (Full credit to Chris Haughton‘s Shh! We Have a Plan) And the children, they actually stop and listen. Yes, for about 2.5 seconds, but still.
When I do something particularly impressive, I might deem it “skilly” (thank you Bob Shea and Cheetah) The “skilly” descriptor elevates things. And makes us smile.
“Holy Bagumba!” once was uttered in my classroom (a classroom besotted with Flora & Ulysses) multiple times a day. For a while, when I was reading one of the Clementine novels (thank you Sara Pennypacker) the children delighted in affectionately calling each other vegetable names. Nowadays, we pretend to have Mrs. Gobble Gracker sightings. (Thank you to Abby Hanlon and the wonderful Dory books) Sometimes, I am almost convinced she is lurking around the corner. Sometimes, in very hopeful ways. I could go have a third cup of coffee and Mrs. Gobble Gracker could take care of everything.
A recent afternoon consisted of a mini Betty Bunny (thank you Michael B. Kaplan) reading marathon. All of us professed our love for chocolate cake or equally divine lemon tarts, strawberry cupcakes or apple pie. Although none of us wanted to stuff any of these favourite desserts into our socks (Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake is a must read), we did certainly identify with Betty’s intense love for delicious sweet treats.
We then read Betty Bunny Didn’t Do it and talked a lot about the honest truth. Betty, has switched her obsession from chocolate cake to honest lies and the “situations” she anticipates them saving her from. Honest truths. Honest lies. In the world of Betty Bunny? Quite hilarious. And of course, perfect inspiration for those important conversations we can have with children about accepting responsibility, “owning up” and dealing with the consequences.
I keep thinking about life right now in these categories. Honest truths. Honest lies. The honest truth? This has been a challenging fall. For some reasons I can share freely and for some reasons I can’t. Unfortunately, much is not in my control. Also the truth? That when lots is hard, we doubt what we know. We get pulled from our confidence. We drift from our strengths. We see clouds over what we trust. We don’t feel all that skilly.
Honest lies? Sometimes I tell them to myself until I can get back to the truth. What are they? That I am fully coping. The truth? Not really. Not always. I have been drifting. I have been waiting to see the metaphorical whale in front of me – the inspiration and the amazing in a class full of children that can and does outweigh the challenges that might be swimming around. But storms have taken me off course. I have been doing it all wrong. I have been looking the wrong way.
In If you want to see a whale, the beautiful book written by Julie Fogaliano and illustrated by Erin E. Stead, Fogliano writes,
“If you want to see a whale, keep both eyes on the sea and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . .”
I have not had both eyes on the sea. My attention has been pulled. I have been looking at foggy, cloudy skies and missing things. But I have kept faith that one day again soon, I will look out at the right time, in the right way and see. When I see my “whale” I will realize that my boat is strong and steady, that I can row in rough waves and that I can pause and appreciate the wonder and the magic of teaching children. I can recognize that multiple little sightings of amazing lead to something with the promise as enormous as a whale.
I didn’t know that Marla Frazee would point me in the exact direction I needed to look. But she did.
I’m off to breakfast with @MarlaFrazee OK, yes other @VanChilLit members will be there but I can still type that! Marla Frazee!
— Carrie Gelson (@CarrieGelson) November 7, 2015
I’m off to breakfast with Carrie Gelson! https://t.co/uFlpkvi7id
— Marla Frazee (@MarlaFrazee) November 7, 2015
Yesterday, Marla Frazee addressed an audience of picture book lovers and devoted fans at the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable‘s Illustrator breakfast. She began with a gracious acknowledgement of her welcome and introduction. She honoured Vancouver’s torrential rain, calling it beautiful and welcome to a California resident. And then, before she launched into an inspirational talk about her books and her art and her practice, she asked, “Is Carrie here?” Once we figured out that she was actually talking about me, I raised my hand. “I just wanted to see who you were,” she explained.
The honest truth? This simple statement was a gift. It made me teary. Teary beyond being flattered that my “super fan status” and my sharing of how meaningful Marla’s titles have been in my classroom had also meant something to her.
Perfect photo to start my day! MT “@CarrieGelson: Absolutely captivated by The Farmer and the Clown” pic.twitter.com/YsEaJRmYav”
— Marla Frazee (@MarlaFrazee) January 9, 2015
Yesterday, in that room full of picture book love, these words from Marla Frazee brought me back. In my searching for a whale metaphor, they steadied my boat. But really, they planted my feet. Right back where they needed to be. They reminded me of who I am.
I am a teacher. A teacher who believes firmly in the gift of literacy. I am a conduit between authors and illustrators who have magic to give and the children who need to receive it. And when I can, I reflect it back. I love nothing more than to share how very beloved stories are in a community of little readers. I am blessed to sit “in between“- in the middle of the book makers and the readers and listeners who they make these books for.
How lucky we are – reading teachers – who get to read aloud to children daily. To put amazing books in the hands of children. To witness as all of the creative energies, the stories, the world flows to these students entrusted to us from nine to three each day. To bask in the wow moments as these children shine it back out into the world. And sometimes, to catch bits of that and pass it back to the book makers who shared in the first place . . . It is a beautiful thing.
The honest truth? I am a reading teacher. And I have important work to do. Marla Frazee, thank you for reminding me of this. What a pleasure it was to listen to your wisdom and meet you yesterday.
Thank you also to the wonderful Nancy Johnson from Western Washington University who I loved visiting with yesterday. She hears the same words I do when we are in the presence of author/illustrator brilliance and writes them down and holds them close. I love that we both know that through books we find most of the answers and all of the questions and that these beloved book makers, when they share, help to illuminate both. Your students, Nancy, are so blessed to have you shine the light on this.
And so, on Monday, I will do what I do. I will let books do what they do. Yesterday, I found the perspective and the emotion I had been missing. Hard things wear us down. It would be an honest lie to say all is well, but honestly, truthfully, I feel like I have renewed energy to focus on what I need to be doing each day.
For me, yes. But more importantly, for my students.
For the children who want to be readers and who aren’t yet . . . For each child, no matter how they express this – through quiet admissions, through masking behaviours, through various emotions, through smiles of pride as progress happens. For these children, I will continue searching for books that each one can read at every stage so that we all get to feel like the books in our room are for all of us. I made a pit stop at Vancouver Kidsbooks yesterday, to fuel up. Yes, there are over a thousand books in my classroom library but each new group of readers has new needs and so I will always be book shopping.
For Joey in my class who just wants to read all day and is on #2 of Stone Rabbit and our classroom library has only #1 to #3, I purchased these. Because nothing makes me happier than hearing a child tell me, “I just want to read all day. Can I?” Oh, reading bug, I hope the contagion factor is very high. Go forth and infect!
For the children who comment, “Look at all of those books we have read,” I will continue to read aloud. Every day. Multiple times. For those who ask me to read more books like “this” of “that” I will find them and I will read them so that all of us are hearing the stories we need to hear.
For the Elephant and Piggie devotion, we will celebrate and read and read and read. And giggle, of course.
For the buddy reading pride. Such an amazing thing to watch these moments between my students and the little ones who come to visit each Wednesday afternoon. As Marla Frazee said yesterday, anything an illustrator puts in a picture, the children will see. They naturally know how to read pictures. I want to give them multiple opportunities to do just this.
Because I have readers to support. Because I have learners to celebrate. Because this is what I believe in. All the World shines through when I know this.
And yes, for those who have been asking, more blog posts should be happening. Soon. Maybe not quite as often but they are coming.