Monday, May 23, 2011

How to make an author nearly cry

This is a photo of renowned author and illustrator, Barbara Reid. Barbara is one of the Toronto District School Board's Writers in Residence. We won a visit from Barbara by participating in the board's Just Read It campaign - it involves having students fill in online forms reporting on the books that they read. Barbara has presented at hundreds of schools but she told us in a letter she sent after her April 20 visit that attending our school was a unique experience. How is this possible?

When we learned that Barbara Reid would be coming to our school, we were very excited. Prior to discovering we had won a visit from her, we had created plasticine art inspired by one of her books that we'd read, "Perfect Snow". We wanted to do something a little more special to commemorate and prepare for this visit. The primary division students were learning about inferences in their language arts lessons - the ability to "read between the lines" and made educated guesses based on text clues. In media class, I call it the implied or "quiet" message (as opposed to the overt/"out loud" message). With my principal's blessing and the approval of Barbara herself, I arranged with a vendor to sell some of Barbara's books to the students that would be autographed. What Barbara didn't know was that we planned on using the profits from the book sales to donate to a charity in her name. As we explained to the young students, when you are giving a present to a person, you could ask them what they want, but it's so much more delightful when you can figure out exactly what they'd like and then it's a wonderful surprise. The challenge for the grade 1-3 students was to learn about Barbara Reid by visiting her website ( is the link) and by reading her books thoroughly and inferring what topics are most important to her as a person. This was a bit of a calculated risk - in talking to the grade ones, many didn't understand that there were different types of charities; they thought charities were only for poor people surviving disasters, like the Haiti earthquake and Japan tsunami.

Barbara was a wonderful presenter. She tailored her Powerpoints to the age of the audience and was an engaging speaker. We had her for the morning, for four periods. She talked with the kindergartens, the grade 1-2s, and the grade 3-4s, and for the final period, everyone came back to the school library. The school superintendent came to help us with the presentations. There were free books for two students with the highest library circulation statistics in their grade range. Then, we explained what we had been up to. Each class chose a representative (teacher or student) to say which charity they had recommended and why. As each group explained, Barbara made little gasps and comments.

"Oh my! I actually give to that charity already!"
"How did you know?"
"That's a wonderful group! I support them."

The principal and I took the list of charities and we made an executive decision about which one to support. The student council created a big fake novelty cheque for us to use in the presentation, and we gave $100 to the charity Sleeping Children. The rationale by the children was this: Barbara Reid writes a lot of stories parents can read to their kids at bedtime. There are some kids in the world who don't have good places to sleep. This charity will help them.

Barbara Reid was taken aback. She finished signing the pile of books for autographing while standing up because she said she couldn't sit after that presentation. She said nothing like this had ever happened before at one of her sessions. She wrote the school a lovely letter thanking us for the donation and telling us how touched she was by the gesture. She said she was near tears at school and barely held it together. Her letter showed how supportive she is of school library programs - one way to make an author nearly cry is to close school libraries. The way I prefer is to make them weep with joy by doing something good for the world.


  1. What a terrific blog about Barb! One of the best, Barb is. And kudos to you as a teacher-librarian doing whatever you can for 'your kids.'
    cheers, Linda Granfield

  2. Thanks for the comment Linda. Two more examples of how Barbara is top-notch ... her picture accompanied a recent Toronto Star article about how author visits help keep school libraries alive and exciting ... and from some recent correspondences, I suspect that she doesn't want to show any favouritism to any one particular charity by having it mentioned on her website - isn't that considerate?
    (Which makes me wonder - should I remove the reference we made to the charity here on this blog? Advice?)