Library + Tea & Biscuits

A retired teacher in Italy converted this charming truck into a mobile library and drives it to rural villages so that children who don’t have easy access to libraries can check out books.

When I told Natalie I would love to convert a vehicle into a Mobile Bookshop/Tea Shop that could visit homebound older people—to check on them over a cup of tea, distribute books, and perhaps sell a small selection of food items—she reminded me that I could turn a teardrop trailer into a traveling tea shop. I am pondering the idea. In the meantime, I found these two examples.

South Africa
Massachusetts

“The Skylarks’ War” by Hilary McKay

“The historical stories we tell have a profound impact on the world.”

Dana Goldstein, New York Times journalist

Both Natalie and Pamela loved this book so much that we purchased five copies to give away over the holidays. Natalie recently read an adult novel that covers the same period (World War I) and said The Skylarks’ War was so much more affecting. Our advice to adult readers: Don’t rule out reading books for children. The best can be just as perceptive, moving, and rich as the most renowned of adult novels.

The publisher’s description pretty well captures The Skylarks’ War (originally published in the U.S. as Love to Everyone): Clarry Penrose finds the good in everyone. Even in her father, who isn’t fond of children, and especially girls. He doesn’t worry about her education, because he knows she won’t need it. It’s the early twentieth century, and the only thing girls are expected to do is behave. But Clarry longs for a life of her own. She wants to dive off cliffs and go swimming with her brother Peter and cousin Rupert. And more than anything, she wants an education. She helps Peter with his homework all the time, so why can’t she manage it by herself? When war breaks out, Clarry is shocked to find that Rupert has enlisted. Then he is declared missing, and Clarry is devastated. Now she must take a momentous step into the wide world—for if she misses this chance, she may never make it. This is an inspirational, funny, and heartwarming story about a girl who dares to open doors that the world would rather keep closed.

We loved what this Goodreads reader wrote: “What an amazing and moving story. My wife read it first and couldn’t put it down. She kindly passed it on to me and I read it in a day. I am a history teacher and often have issues with books set in the World Wars as the writers tend to make obvious errors but this was beautifully written and I felt captured the mood of the war years. I was moved almost to tears in places. It reminded me of so many amazing books like: War Horse, The Railway Children and maybe Swallows and Amazons. With All Quiet on the Western Front in there too. For a children’s novel it was quite brutally honest about how hard and dark the Western Front could be. Dare I say a modern classic? I am going to recommend this for the school library and my students. What a lovely story.”

New York Times journalist Dana Goldstein recently observed that “the historical stories we tell have a profound impact on the world.” This is particularly true for young audiences. We are glad that The Skylarks’ War is one such historical story; its impact is desperately needed.

A Teacher’s Perspective on Effective Classrooms, Part 1

If we peek into the most effective classrooms, we will probably see not just students thriving, but also teachers thriving. We all know that with so many kids with different needs and so many demands to juggle, every day won’t be perfect for each and every child. In the October 2017 issue of The Atlantic, writer and educator Erika Christakis states, “Our public education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society.” I agree with her.

So, here is the question I have asked myself:

What makes a classroom dynamic effective for each individual learner and the classroom as a whole?

Borrowing an ideology from our son’s elementary school that the best learning environments honor the important connection between head, hand and heart, I have made a list of what that means and what it might look like in a dynamic classroom where those three needs are honored and met. Over the next few days, I’ll write a little something about what each one means to me.

Learning Should be Fun; Laughter Helps!

“Humor improves student performance by attracting and sustaining attention, reducing anxiety, enhancing participation, and increasing motivation.”

Brandon M. Savage et al., Advances in Physiology Education 2017 (41:3)

This is a photo of sixth-grade me. I’d been sitting at the kitchen table puzzling over my pre-algebra textbook, which had a penchant for asking ridiculous (but supposedly relevant) questions and failing to answer my question, “WHY?”

Laugh about math!

WHY is a negative times a negative a positive? WHY is multiplying by a fraction’s reciprocal the same as dividing? WHY does cross-multiplying work?

After half an hour of reading the same problem over and over, I had become teary. My dad sat down to give me a hand, took one look at the word problem, and exclaimed: “Is Fred crazy? What’s he thinking cutting a rope into halves and quarters and then sevenths? He’s just making life harder for himself!” By then, I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. Soon, we had figured out how to approach Fred’s problem. From then on, through homeschooling, our motto was “Laugh about math.”

It turns out this was a sound pedagogical approach (as my dad would know, given that he’s spent 30 years teaching college students). “Humor and laughter may not directly cause learning; however, humor creates an environment that promotes learning,” write the authors of a 2017 article for Advances in Physiology Education. “Evidence documents that appropriate humor, and humor that relates to course material, attracts and sustains attention and produces a more relaxed and productive learning environment. Humor also reduces anxiety, enhances participation, and increases motivation.”

My experience certainly backs this up. Some of my most memorable learning experiences—including in high school and college—are those where the class dissolved in laughter. This does not mean teachers should be expected to perform stand-up comedy, nor that every class should be as lighthearted as a sitcom. I was a history major; there are plenty of times when, given the nature of the subject matter, it would have been wildly inappropriate for class to be conducted in a humorous vein. Perhaps the best way to think about it is thus: Periodic laughter is an expression of the most productive kind of learning environment, one where students are engaged, where they feel comfortable with each other and with the instructor, and where learning is a process to be relished.

It Began With a Page

How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way

We are building a library because we love books and we love to read so much. While this space will most often feature stories and discoveries we make in the process of building our library, I will occasionally write about a book that I love too much not to share with you.

Here is a book I recently found and I LOVE it.

This elegant picture book would make a lovely gift for any child or adult (picture books are not just for children; I will write more about this idea in a future post). It is the perfect book for anyone who you think would be interested in a moving story (written by Kyo Maclear), beautiful illustrations (by Julie Morstad), and learning about another brave woman who changed history.

A biographical picture book, it includes moving moments in the life of Gyo Fujikawa, a groundbreaking Japanese American hero who spoke up for racial diversity in picture books.

Growing up in California, Gyo Fujikawa always knew that she wanted to be an artist. She was raised among strong women, including her mother and teachers, who encouraged her to fight for what she believed in. During World War II, Gyo’s Japanese-American family was forced to abandon their home and belongings and imprisoned in an internment camp in Arkansas.

In the meantime, Gyo was living in New York working as an illustrator. This was such a difficult time for Gyo. Seeing the diversity around her and feeling pangs from her own childhood, Gyo became determined to show all types of children in the pages of her books. There had to be a world where every child saw themselves represented. Her book Babies, initially rejected, was published in 1963 and stands as a landmark: it was the first children’s book to depict infants of different races and nations sharing growing experiences. Two million copies were sold. Fujikawa’s books have been translated into 17 languages and are read in more than 22 countries.

This exquisite book includes additional information on Gyo Fujikawa, a bibliography, a note from the creators, a timeline, and archival photos.

It Began With a Page is written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julie Morstad

Halloween Book Treats

Sharing our love of books is fun

For the second year in a row, we set up our Halloween book give-away and it was exhilarating to see how enthusiastic and appreciative everyone, both children and adults, was when they saw the boxes organized by picture books, middle grade books, young adult, and books for parents. We start collecting books in the summer, purchasing many from book shops in public libraries. One friend loves this idea so much she’s give us three boxes of books both years.

Bill sets up the books. Natalie makes the signs. From our front porch, we could see so many children and adults taking their time choosing a book.

About 500 books went home tonight to new homes. Here are a few fun things we overheard:

“This is so amazing”
“This is so dope!”
“I’m so excited to read this”
“My friend said this is a good author”

And from one mom: “This is my new favorite house.” 🙂

“The Cotilda”

After finishing my Life Jackets project, I felt the pull to do a little painting again. During the months of making those jackets, I had done a lot of thinking about the unknown futures of individuals—now my thoughts turned to unknown pasts, especially relatives on my late father’s side. A genetic test revealed I was 6% black. Further research revealed I had ancestors who were free people of color who actually owned slaves themselves. Disturbing to say the least. A little research brought me to news that the remains of the last slave ship to reach America had been unearthed; this provided the inspiration for the painting “The Cotilda” which landed in Alabama in 1859.

“The Cotilda”
40 X 30, oil and charcoal on canvas

Click here to watch “Life Jackets,” the 8-minute film by Pamela Beere Briggs & William McDonald featuring Suzanne’s recent project.

A Tiny Good Thing

Isabelle Nagel-Brice

We have been thinking about, researching, and planning our library project off and on for a dozen years. One good thing about things taking longer than you expect is that it allows for more learning. I will be sharing on this website not only the building of our downstairs garage/upstairs library+studio, but also the amazing things we’ve learned about healthy building materials. One person who has been an inspiration to me is Isabelle Nagel-Brice of “A Tiny Good Thing.” I learned about Isabelle because I’ve been enamored by tiny houses ever since we built our little 10’ x 7’ tiny schoolhouse in our back garden. When I visited Isabel’s website the first time, I was smitten. I read every single article and post she had written.

Isabelle’s tiny house

I watched the video tour of her tiny house. I revisited her website again and again. And then…we met Isabelle and decided to have her be our consultant for healthy building materials on the library project. I’ll be writing more about Isabelle’s building knowledge and tiny house expertise in future posts. For now, let me introduce Isabelle Nagel-Brice, someone who has inspired us to take healthy building a few steps further than we had imagined. She is the person who suggested we recycle the wood from the old garage and turn it into the hardwood floor for the upstairs library. We are so happy she suggested it.

Visit A Tiny Good Thing to learn more about Isabelle and her inspiring work.