“Who likes to read?” I asked the group of 20-some second graders sitting on the floor around my legs. I was perched on a plastic and metal kid-sized chair pulled from the table where one of the children usually sits. I was visiting the class as a community reader, part of a day-long Community Reading Day program sponsored by our local literacy office.
“I do,” some of the children cried out. “Meeee!” said a few more. Nearly all of the children raised their hands and wiggled around on their knees, even though they were supposed to be sitting on their bottoms.
“Well, for all you who like to read, what do you call the people who write books?” I asked.
“Authors!” the children shouted. They had been over this material before. Clearly.
“Did you know that there are authors who live right here in Frankfort?” I asked them. They looked startled.
“Me!” I said, poking a finger into my own sternum. “I’m an author.” I pulled out my recent book and showed them.
“And look at this,” I said, pulling out a bunch more books from my bag. “See all these books? Friends of mine wrote these. People just like us! And someday, YOU could write a book, too!”
“I want to write a book,” said a girl with light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail and freckles marching across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose.
“My sister wrote a book,” another boy called out.
“My sister is an artist,” said another.
I forgot what it was like to sit surrounded by a roomful of children all desperate for my attention, all hanging on my words. I wasn’t trying to impress them by telling them I am an author. I was trying to inspire them, like I was inspired to write when I was their age.
Before I read the books chosen for me by the literacy director–My Teacher Is a Monster by Peter Brown and Max & Ruby’s Treasure Hunt by Rosemary Wells–I announced to the class that I brought some poems to read.
“Great,” said their teacher, “we just studied poems, didn’t we class?”
“Well, I also brought a special gift for your classroom, too,” I said, whipping out a folded poster from my bag. “Next month is National Poetry Month, and this poster is from the Poetry Foundation.” I handed the teacher the poster, and she immediately hung it up in the room. (Thanks to the Academy of American Poets for the free poster illustrating the first three lines of Mark Strand’s poem, “Eating Poetry.” It went to a good cause!)
Then, as entertainingly as I could, I read Kenn Nesbitt’s “Homework, I Love You” and “Daddy Fell into the Pond” by Alfred Noyes. I had the kids guess how old Diego is after I read “Diego’s ninety day follow-up check in” by Oscar Mireles, and the kids laughed the hardest when I read Mary Ann Hoberman’s “Rabbit.” I finished up our poetry reading time with Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves, or, What You Are You Are.”
As I read the last sentence, I realized it was actually a sad poem because though the tiger wanted to be stylish, the shame he felt from all the other animals meant he never would be.
They shamed him and shamed him–
till none could have blamed him,
when at last, with a sigh
and a saddened eye,
and in spite of his love,
he took off each glove,
and agreed this was meant
all to prevail:
each tiger content
with his lashing tail
with his strong striped hide.
Much to my surprise, I got to participate in a tornado drill. One little boy wanted to keep a copy of Ann Kroeker’s Not So Fast because he thought it was about soccer. And after reading about Max and Ruby’s treasure hunt, one little girl announced that she, too, was going on a treasure hunt on Saturday.
“It’s an Easter egg hunt,” another boy said, correcting her. I couldn’t help but think of the Tiger and his gloves.
One little girl, smaller than the rest, sat right in front of me, so close I tried to scoot back to give her space (or maybe it was me who needed the space). Her dark hair was pulled back off her face, and her dark eyes hid more than they revealed. She didn’t say a word during my time visiting her classroom.
But her eyes lit up with each new clue in the book about the treasure hunt, and she threw back her head and laughed loudly in all the right places, not seeming to notice that she was the only one sometimes.
“Maybe I can come back again,” I told the kids when our half hour ended much too quickly.
And then I took all my books and left.
Photo by the Cornell University Library. Used with permission under the Creative Commons.