Friday, February 26, 2010

Getting Caught Reading...

One of our teachers at Somers Elementary School encouraged fellow colleagues to "get caught reading..." as part of our Read Across America celebration. My fondest memories of reading as a child were the hours I spent snuggling beside my mom on the couch. My poor mother did everything she could, being the passionate reader and librarian of 35 years, to encourage me to stay focused on a book. I, however, would not be tempted until the joy and fruits of her labor finally hit me decades later. Looking back, I'm sure my teachers told her that I was a struggling reader...a child who was just as content to be running around outside with my friends after school...then sitting with a book. Now, as a fourth grade teacher, the tables have turned. The question and challenge continues; "How do we encourage and foster an interest in reading for young adults?" After working with 8-12 year olds for the past several years, I believe it all starts with enthusiasm. I believe we need to share our love for the written word with sincere, and heartfelt passion. Share passages from your favorite books, and talk about them as if they are characters that live in your neighborhood. Your enthusiasm will be contagious and your seeds will, like my mom's, someday bear fruit.
What am I reading now? A few children's books that are beautifully illustrated, JANUARY'S SPARROW, by Patricia Palacco...14 COWS FOR AMERICA, by Cameren Agra Deedy, Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Also a few that I've managed to dip in an out of each evening; MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE, by Norm Abram, A LONG WAY GONE, by Ishmael Beah, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, by Sue Monk Kidd, and TRUE COMPASS, a memoir by Edward Kennedy, and finally Nathaniel Philbrick's MAYFLOWER.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Used Books... Bring Back Old Memories

I made my yearly pilgrimage to the Mansfield Public Library in Storrs yesterday. Just off the University of Connecticut's campus, the Friends of the Mansfield Library create quite the buzz around southern New England with their semi-annual used book sale. I was fortunate to arrive early and keen enough to realize volunteers were handing out tickets; and at number 26, I was optimistic that I could land a handful of classics and perhaps locate a few recently released best selling novels. However, by the time the doors opened at 9:00 A.M., I was no match for the "Amazon-hounds" that poured through the door, bar-code readers in hand, grabbing anything and everything.
I'm all for the free-market and capitalism, but the last thing I wanted was to jostle for position to buy a used copy of The Secret Life of Bees.

One bright spot, however, was when I overheard a conversation at the breakfast counter, set with blueberry muffins, friendship breads, and your choice of either "Starbuck's coffee" (I'm a Hills Brothers man myself). Even though I had never met the gentleman, I knew I had a connection. Second box of books in hand, I stumbled over to the card table where the two cashiers sat, bundled in quilts near the exit. The man stood just over six feet and with his southern accent and hometown wit, worked the crowd like an auctioneer. "Your first name wouldn't be Sam?" I asked." And before he could answer, a man beside him assured me he was Sam. "Sam Pickering?" I followed up, hoping I hadn't just met any ole Sam.
I went on to introduce myself, and without pause Mr. Pickering said, "thee Mark Maciolek that Francelia Butler always talked about? Francelia spoke very highly of you."

Sam, you made my day... bringing back memories of a dear friend, Dr. Francelia Butler.
(Dr. Butler, above, is shown in this 1985 photo with Walter Cronkite.) You will never know how much those words "she spoke very highly of you..."meant to me yesterday, for 12 years have gone by since her passing. Like Francelia and Sam, I too teach... often swimming up stream. Over the years I realized Francelia had never learned I went back to get my teacher certification, and that she was the inspiration for so many things that I have accomplished.

Sam, you not only brought back fond memories, but lessons learned years ago, that I need to be reminded of now. Thank you.... and by the way, that used book I had bought of yours...the one I couldn't remember... {AUTUMN SPRING}... I love it.