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Summer Reading - Some Thoughts

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Get any group of educators together today, particularly librarian types, and you are likely to hear these buzzwords: ‘maker space’ and ‘social emotional learning.'

Though both are fairly new terms, at Community School, they have been around for years. Take our beloved woodshop program, for instance. You can’t get more “maker space-ery” than that! And we have a long history of teaching life lessons, nurturing the whole child: mind, body, and spirit.

During the last few months, I have been instructed in life lessons by an author dear to the heart of CS kids, Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She created more than a dozen great children’s books, a handful of books for adults, and several videos. You may have first heard of her earlier this year, when a New York Times essay she penned went viral. “You May Want to Marry My Husband” was basically a love letter to her husband, Jason, written in the final days of her battle with cancer. As I have reviewed her body of work these last couple months, Amy has become very dear to my heart as well. She died on March 13th at the age of 51, just 10 days after the article ran. (A whole lot of weeping going on over a woman I have never met…) 

But, Amy, like all great authors, lives on in the things she’s made. Which brings us back to the “maker movement”.

Terri Kerley and I first studied Amy Krouse Rosenthal with our Discovery Center classes in 2011, because we loved Little Pea, and then later, Little Hoot, Little Oink, Yes Day, and The OK Book, as well. Somewhere along the way, I watched her video, “The Beckoning of Lovely." It seems that that video/event resulted from her first video, “17 Things I Made”, at the end of which she invited her internet audience to meet her on 8/8/08, at 8:08 pm, to make, together, an 18th thing. The “maker space” for that 18th thing was The Bean Sculpture in Millennium Park in Chicago, and the resulting video is a must-see. (In fact, I showed it to two groups of 6th graders, when I was supposed to be reading to them - sorry Mrs. Corwyn!) 

Another video was made on 9/9/09, and in 2012, Amy did a Tedx talk called “7 Notes on Life”. In it, she uses the seven notes of the musical scale (A-G) to illustrate 7 important life lessons. I am not going to tell you all of them here, (you have to watch that video, too) but I will mention two of them. “B” is ‘Beckon the Lovely’. And “E” is for ‘Empty Space’.

One of the reasons I like AKR so much is that she clearly loves words and ideas, and in her books, she plays around with both.
In “7 Notes on Life”, she describes the ‘Empty Spaces’ in our busy lives as “sacred and golden”. Not just vacations and weekends, but also those time when we intentionally disconnect from the chatter of all of our various screens. She uses an anagram to show that our minds are in a state of 
REACTION
when we are absorbed in our gadgets. But when we disconnect, we open up to a vital and rewarding state of mind, and with the same amount of time, and the same letters, we can have
CREATION.

The term ‘social emotional learning’, or SEL, is fairly new, and yet it fits neatly under the umbrella of ‘life lessons’. Character Education is what we called it not too long ago, and books - the stories in books - are a wonderful way to impart heart knowledge: understanding feelings, your own and those of others, practicing empathy and compassion, learning to work together, and how to get along. Here’s a favorite quote about that…

She had remembered, as good mothers often do, that entertainment and character formation do not have to be mutually exclusive, and both can be found at the local library. ~Sarah Arthur 

One of my favorite books in the 300s (yes, we do Dewey still) was first published in 1946, and titled How to Behave and Why, by Munro Leaf, a forerunner of many excellent books that speak to social emotional learning in an entertaining and compelling way. Particularly this spring, in the Discovery Center, we’ve been learning from Amy Krouse Rosenthal. In her book Spoon, a spoon named, cleverly, Spoon, is bent out of shape because he feels that all of his friends (fork, knife, chopsticks) are so much luckier than he. Spoon’s mom says

“You know, Spoon… I wonder if you realize just how lucky you are.”

That’s a lesson we can all use at times. And in Chopsticks, (‘not really a sequel, more a change in place setting’) the story ends with

“A toast to Chopsticks! 
To standing on our own, and
To sticking together.”

Friendshape, explores the many facets of friendship through 4 “besties” who just happen to be shapes. (It is so fun to read this one to 1st and 2nd graders -- they “get” the wordplay!)

And now, back to the start, that title, Summer Reading. You will find, on every grade’s Summer Reading List, one or two of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s picture books. At Community, we call our picture books Everybody’s because we believe picture books are for everyone.

It will soon be summer, and I hope yours will include some empty space, some time for you to make something lovely with your children, maybe just making some time to share great books together. And, you might want to make the acquaintance of Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

(Oh, and make sure you check out those videos!)