Are you sure this is true?

Girls Little House Prairie

Outside of my life as a dad and husband, there are few things I love more than teaching students in our education department at the local college here in town. Most of them are nearing the end of their degree and about to receive their teacher certification when they enroll in the course I teach on social studies and science in early childhood education. They are so energetic and passionate about their upcoming life as a teacher, and the things they learn out there in real classrooms during their field experiences and practicums and student teaching are truly a treasure to all of us in the department.

Among the assignments included in my class is one about learning what children already understand about a particular subject. We ask our students to get out there in real classrooms and talk with young children about a topic and see what they know and what they want to know and what they need to know about that particular topic. This kind of information, a pre-assessment, is very helpful to us as classroom teachers when we go about putting together units and lesson plans for young children today, and it is always eye-opening and one of my favorite assignments to grade because the responses are always different and funny and interesting to hear the honest talk that children so happily and freely give in such assignments.

One of my favorite responses to this assignment occurred just last year. A student read to us her wonderful interview and assessment of the children in an elementary classroom where she was working that semester. Here’s what she wrote, “I asked the children to close their eyes and…imagine not having any electricity, running water, iPods, TV, and transportation. I then talked to them about Laura Ingalls Wilder and gave the class background information about her. I gave the children directions by asking them to draw a picture or write down any things that they found interesting [as I read] an excerpt from Little House On the Prairie. After I finished reading, the children asked me different questions and one [child said], ‘Are you sure this is true?’ I assured them that it was.”

To open up a dialogue as this gifted teacher did and have a child respond, “Are you sure this is true?” – what a conversation starter! I don’t think we could ask for more from a book.

As much as I love reading books to my children that are clearly fiction, this child’s response makes it clear that we need to be reading all kinds of things with them and that includes great historical novels and intriguing non-fiction works from the past and present. For me, the Little House series revolved around Farmer Boy. I loved that book, still do, and I remember my 6th grade teacher, Zola Evans, reading a chapter to us every day just after lunch and recess.

Every good book holds a moment of opportunity for its readers. Whether you are a child or an adult, there will come a subtle minute when you pause in the middle of a great paragraph and look up from the page and wonder – could this really be true? No wonder people like books.



The Book of People

Book of People

Monday’s blog has got me thinking more about the analogies between books (which I love) and people (which aren’t so bad either). It happened again the other day…

My brother-in-law and I met up for lunch in a hospital cafeteria. A family member was having surgery and it proved to be a good time for two busy dads to catch up while he was captive for a few hours in such a place.

The interesting thing about this hospital is its profound personal relationship with our family. This was the place where he and his sister’s (my wife) mother worked as a nurse before her untimely death more than twenty years ago. She gave her heart and soul to the place and worked the long and many times heartwrenching hours that nurses like her have given in places like this for centuries before and since. It had been her dream to do such things as far as back as her teenage years, and it fulfilled a place inside her that few other things ever did. I never knew this complicated, devoted lady and she has no other living relatives nearby, so her story for me and all of our children lies with my wife and her brother.

And now, here we are in this hospital, in the very place where she had written much of her life’s story. The moment we finished lunch and began to walk the winding hallways back to the small waiting area, my brother-in-law pointed out some favorite spots of childhood visits here, of seeing his mom do this or that…just remembering and reliving a page or two of the connections they made together inside these walls. Her memory, and his, still lingered in the shadows of an otherwise unassuming hospital hallway.

If you are in the book business, it is surprising how many people will tell you that they want to write a book, that they have a story to tell. For one reason or another most never take pen or keyboard in hand and begin the process. But let me tell you a secret that I recognized in that’ve already started. As long as you are breathing, the story is being written. And when you are no longer here, bestseller status and wide distribution, even a publishing deal, won’t matter at all because this unprinted story will only be read by the very people who mattered to you most in the first place.

My brother-in-law simply opened one of those books that he knew and loved and read and lived…and began to read it to me. And the story of a life came to life once again.

Swimming with books

Does anyone make waterproof books? Our great English major friend says kindle now has a waterproof cover, but we agreed that we’re both afraid to use it! So I am sitting here at my in-laws pool watching my kids and their cousins swim. One brought a book and is trying to figure out how to read it…in the pool. It’s true. People who love to read, love to read everywhere.
That is why it’s a good idea to always have a book along. When the girls were 2 or 3 we started keeping a backpack of books next to them in the car. Whether it was across town to visit the grocery store, waiting for a doctors appointment, in line at the drive-thru bank, or traveling out of town, that bag of 10 or 15 books saved the sanity of those of us in the front seat. We kept it fully stocked with a good variety of that month’s favorite books, and it rarely failed to keep the girls content. I can still see them strapped down in that massive 1995 carseat (so big it nearly swallowed our kids whole) with a harness seatbelt mechanism that practically took an engineering degree to secure it in our Camry. But bringing that backpack along was never a struggle.
Gone are their days in carseats, but the books in crazy places remain…even on a raft at the pool.