Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Back to School

Great Tips for Reducing the Stress
of Going Back to School

Grown-ups begin a new year on January 1st, but for kids the new year begins on the first day of school. Although kids love to "hate" school, many are truly eager to learn, to get back to their school, its social scene, and its reassuring routine. New kids in town, oldest children, kids transitioning from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school, or kids with learning or behavioral challenges, may feel a little anxious when the new school year rolls around.

Our job as parents is to raise our children to be independent. One of parenting's greatest challenges is learning to distinguish when and how much we should help our children and when we should encourage them to solve problems themselves. The best way to help your children or teens prepare for school this year is to teach them by example and by posing questions that will help them think through their own problems and arrive at workable solutions.

Some Helpful Tips:
  • Use the two weeks prior to school starting to let your child readjust to their new bedtime. Set their alarm each night and make sure your little one is up and at em' the next morning.
  • Take time to go over your child's car pool or bus schedule as well. This way they will be aware of what time they need to be ready when the big day arrives.  In addition, you may want to go over routes and how long the ride to school will take.  Most importantly, talk to your child about car/bus safety!
  • If your child is new to town, the oldest, or transitioning from one school to another, make sure he or she has the opportunity to tour the school a few days before school begins. Encourage your child to ask questions of you and anyone he or she meets at the school. Be aware that younger children, preteens, and teens will all have different fears and concerns. And, older kids may be too insecure to ask questions for fear of appearing stupid or un-cool. For example: young children may worry about paying for lunch the first time and where the lavatories are located in relationship to their classroom. Preteens and teens may be more worried about their lockers, lock combinations, and what they're going to wear the first day of school.
  • Before any "back to school" clothing is purchased, make sure you and your child or teen know the school dress code. That knowledge will ease family tension and save you a great deal of time and trouble.
  • From kindergarten on, encourage your children to dress in a way that is compatible with his or her personality. Let them know that being true to themselves is "way" better than being trendy; in fact, the kids who create trends never copy anyone else. Peer pressure builds as kids get older and celebrating individuality through clothing style is a great way to show your kids that they do not need the approval of popular kids to survive, and thrive, in school.
  • The night before school have your child pick out a first day outfit. This will avoid adding unnecessary chaos to an already hectic event. Have them pack their backpack as well. Click here for tips on backpack safety: http://www.kidshealth.org/parent/positive/learning/backpack.html
  • School textbooks are getting heavier and heavier. Make sure you child or preteen has a sturdy backpack that distributes the weight of books equally. You may want to invest in a roller backpack that has a luggage handle so that your child can pull his or her backpack instead of carrying it.
  • If you plan on packing them a lunch ask them what they would like to eat on the first day of school. If you aren't fixing their lunch, be sure to give them lunch money and have them put it in a safe place.
  • If your children will be participating in any extracurricular sports, they will need a physical. Schedule it as soon as possible, even before school starts.
  • If your kids had required reading over the summer, you may want to have an informal discussion with them about their reading right before school starts. Ask them to remind you what books they read and why they liked or disliked them. Don't be satisfied with simplistic explanations; ask for details about characters, place, and plot. Ask them if and why they would recommend the book to other kids. Your informal book chat will jog their memories and help them if they are assigned a report on their summer reading.
  • Share your own feelings and memories about your first day of school experiences: being the new kid in town; the first one in the family to ride a bus to school; or the forgetting your locker combination running between classes in middle school. When your kids share their worries or concerns, don't dismiss or trivialize them. Validate their concerns. Ask them if they have ideas on what they can do to alleviate their apprehensions. If they do not have ideas, brainstorm with them to come up with viable solutions and actions.
  • In this era of "kidnap fears" it is hard not to be too overprotective of your children, but try. In most of America, kids can walk to school safely. They can ride the bus safely, too. Human skin is waterproof, and dressed for the occasion, kids can walk in the rain and snow unharmed. The classroom is not the only place where learning occurs. The journey to and from school provides your kids with another situation in which to learn. If your area is "traffic safe," adequately prepare your kids with safety tips and, at an age appropriate time, stop driving them to school door and let them explore. Their self-esteem will swell with their responsible independence.
  • Make sure your child has a library card, knows his or her way around the library, and knows how to find the books he or she will need to complete assignments and read for pleasure during the school year.
  • Get into the habit of going to the library once a week or once every two weeks, regardless of whether or not your child's school assignments require it. The best way you can help your children achieve in school is to encourage them to read and become life-long readers. The best place to get free books, magazines, computer access, entertaining stories, and important information is your neighborhood library.
  • No matter how old or young your children, read through the school student handbook with them at the beginning of every year. You both need to know the school's goals, expectations, opportunities, and rules.
  • Fill out any medical and emergency forms and return them to the school immediately. If your child has any special health or physical needs make sure you put those needs in writing and that the principal, your child's teacher, and the school nurse all have copies.
  • Establish a safe place in the house where all school forms and notices can be deposited every day. Get your kids in the habit of taking all forms and notices out of their backpacks and putting them in that safe place as soon as they walk through your door. They need to learn from kindergarten on that they are responsible for making sure you receive all communications from their school. It may help to give each of your children, including your teens, a sturdy plastic folder that they can keep in their backpack to carry notices home safely.
  • Rusty Browder, the librarian at Amos A. Lawrence School in Brookline, Mass., recommends that kids of all ages acquire great "backpack habits." She suggest that kids go through their backpacks everyday, organize papers and notebooks, give parents important notices and work, and throw out garbage of any kind! Older kids who have locker breaks between classes may want to organize their heavy textbooks in groups of morning and afternoon classes so that one group of books can be left in their lockers until needed.
  • Read aloud to your children from their favorite books, every night if possible, if only for ten or fifteen minutes. And don't assume that once your child has become an independent reader that he or she no longer wants, or needs, to be read aloud to. Kids of all ages, and adults, love to hear a great story. And reading aloud increases your children's vocabulary, makes them laugh, expands their universe, and helps them to learn about human understanding and compassion. Besides- it's great fun!
  • Try to find a special time each day to talk with your children about their day at school. Sometimes that moment takes place in the car driving between after-school activities. Sometimes it takes place on the phone from home to your work place. Sometimes it takes place at the table over dinner. Wherever and whenever it takes place, don't ask the question, "How was school today?" –– it is a certainty that you will get a one word answer. Ask: what was served in the cafeteria; did you have gym outside; how did your history presentation go? –– anything to initiate a conversation. Never underestimate your impact or importance to your kids. Your taking the time to take an interest in them and their day is not only important to their education, it is something they will remember and cherish the rest of their lives.
  • Send them off with big kisses and a bunch of well wishes!
Happy School Year!!

© 2013 Mary Brigid Barrett

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Back to School

Set The Stage for Great Writing

Many kids think of writing as a burden and a chore rather than as a pleasurable experience. Here are some suggestions to help you motivate your students to get them writing. 

   Professional writers choose their own topics and story ideas; they write about things they care about. In our current test oppressive culture, students have little opportunity to choose their own writing topics. Whenever possible, offer your students choices within a given writing assignment. If, after being given a writing assignment, a student comes up with a legitimately better idea, be flexible; allow them to bend the assignment to meet their interests.

 Fight to keep creative writing projects in your classroom and your school’s curriculum. With state testing mandates, many teachers have little time to spend on creative writing projects. Your students need to experience writing for joy and pleasure, just like they need to experience reading and books in a pleasurable atmosphere.

 Introducing kids to rich and entertaining children’s literature is the best way to get kids excited about reading and books. Creating their own stories is one of the best ways you can get your students excited about writing.

 The esteemed writer Virginia Woolf suggested that a writer needs "a room of one’s own." Writers need privacy in order to work and school is, conversely, a communal experience. What’s to be done? First, buck the team work trend and have your students work independently on their own writing projects and assignments. Second, see if there is some way you can allow your students to find their own writing space either in the classroom or in the school library, even if they can only use the space on occasion. Third, contact your students' parents and ask them to help their children find a special place at home to write. You may want to print and make multiple copies of Creating a Home Atmosphere That Supports Great Writing, and give a copy to each of your students’ parents. It will help them create an atmosphere at home to support their children’s writing.

 Be a role model. If you want your students to think that writing is a pleasurable activity, then you should try to write, too, and let them see you writing. Participate yourself in the creative writing projects you give your students and let them hear the results of your attempts, after they have completed their assignments. If you have the courage to share your writing, they will follow your example!

For more great tips and articles about encouraging literacy in the classroom and at home, visit the NCBLA's Teacher Handbook and Parent & Guardian Handbook

©2004 Mary Brigid Barrett

Monday, July 28, 2014

On Censorship

Interview with Two Literacy Experts Delves into Censorship Issues in Children's Literature

Illustration courtesy of FairObserver.com.
Recently NCBLA President and Executive Director Mary Brigid Barrett and children's literature specialist Maria Salvadore talked with  Anna Pivovarchuk of the Fair Observer. The interview is published in an article titled "Banning Children’s Literature: The Right to Read." Here is an excerpt:

Pivovarchuk: Children’s books — or literature for young adults — have been the most frequently challenged throughout history. From Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye, to the Harry Potter series that topped the list over the last decade, and now to Captain Underpants, which pushed the controversial Fifty Shades of Grey off the top spot in 2013. What it is about these books that makes parents so angry?
Barrett: I think sometimes, on a surface level, parents feel that exposure to certain books challenges the beliefs and values they are trying to instill in their children, and they feel threatened. As a parent and teacher, I totally understand those feelings, especially when talking about age appropriateness issues. Over the last three years, visiting schools and working with children, I have found a number of kids as young as third grade who read The Hunger Games books. No matter how intellectually precocious a third grader is, few, if any, third graders would have the experience level and the emotional maturity to deal with the violence level in those books.

But banning The Hunger Games is not the answer. I found, as a parent, the best way to handle a situation where your child is adamant about reading a book, which you are worried is inappropriate, is to read it aloud with your child, so you can comment on it; your child can share his or her reaction to what is read; and you can then have a discussion with your child, sharing your values, your feelings about what is read and, in turn, your child can share his or her concerns and ask you questions.

A dear friend, author Katherine Paterson, has often found her books on the most challenged children’s books list. One of those, The Bridge to Terabithia, is often challenged for a variety of reasons. Amongst challenger claims are that it contains offensive language, promotes secular humanism, new age religions, cults and witchcraft. But Katherine thinks that in some parents it ignites a much greater parental fear — the fear of your child dying. One of the main child characters in the book dies, and not from an illness or premeditated act, or adult abuse or error, but from a total accident where no one is at fault and no one is responsible. Katherine feels that the real reason the book is challenged is that parents want to feel they are in control, and have the ability to keep their children safe. But deep down, we all know that no matter how much we love our kids, no matter how we try to protect them, anything can happen at any time. The Bridge to Terabithia reveals the deepest, darkest fear we all have as parents: that we can care for our children, but we cannot control the universe — it can take them at any time.

To read the entire article, vist FairObserver.com.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Attention Coaches, Counselors, Mentors!

Great Ideas for Connecting Kids
to Books this Summer,
Especially for Coaches,
Counselors, and Mentors

Grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, neighbors, coaches, scout and camp councilors, youth volunteers—all of you have far more influence on the kids in your life than you know. And you have enormous influence on the children and teens that have parents who, for whatever reason, are unable to fulfill their parental responsibilities. Your position is free of even ordinary parental/child/teen tension, and because of that, your leadership and friendship are hugely meaningful, especially to preteen and teens that are naturally looking beyond their own backyards for mentors. Don’t be afraid to exert your influence encouraging kids to read, to write, to stay in school and learn.

Young and single adult mentors’ words are gold – especially to teens – so share what you’re reading with the kids. The next time you visit or meet with kids, bring magazines that you enjoy and magazines you think they would like, too. Mention articles in newspapers that interest you, as well as online materials. Share a book – a mystery, romance, biography, fantasy, or information book – that you have found especially entertaining or helpful. You are much cooler than any old parent or guardian, and if you suggest something to read, the kids will be eager to read it themselves.

Coaches and youth organization leaders schedule an informal “rain” practice or meeting in the children’s or young adults’ rooms at your local neighborhood library. Make sure to email or call your library to let them know when you will be coming to visit. And give them an idea of how many kids will be coming. If you, or your kids, do not have library cards, take the opportunity to get a library card and show the kids how to use it. Ask the librarian to show the kids where books and magazines are located that relate to their interests: sports, scouting, camping, arts and crafts, games, etc. Make sure the librarian introduces them to picture books and novels, to great stories that relate to their interests. And be sure that the kids know that they can also borrow audio books, music CDs, and video and DVDs of their favorite movies – all for free. The example of a coach or scout leader borrowing books from the library will have a far greater impact on kids than any literacy entreaty delivered by their parents or teachers.

Write up your team’s, group’s, or organization’s activities and email or fax your report to your local community paper to get your kids reading newspapers. Community papers are eager to report town activities. If your report gets published, make sure you bring the newspaper to the next practice or meeting to share with your kids. Read the blurb or report out loud and show the kids other sections of the paper that may be of interest to them. If you work with tweens and teens, rotate the “reporter’s” duties through various members of the team and let them write up the information about the game or group activity. They will be thrilled to see their words printed in the local paper. If you live in an urban area that supports a major newspaper, be sure to bring that newspaper to a meeting and point out the sports and life style sections that echo the kids’ interests.

Explore how you can connect the kids in your team or group to reading and books. When kids join America SCORES Soccer, they commit to learning how to be great soccer players and to reading and writing poetry. America SCORES is a nationwide program that uses poetry and soccer as tools to teach literacy, life skills and the importance of community service to inner-city elementary school children. The children participate five days a week for ten weeks each fall and spring. They spend two days a week learning poetry and implementing a community service project; the remaining three days per week are devoted to soccer instruction and games played against other area SCORES teams. “SCORES student-athletes improve their reading and writing skills, learn to express themselves, help their community, make lasting friendships, and learn valuable life skills that will help them advance in the classroom, on the playing field, and in society.”

SCORES was originally designed to be both a literacy and sport program, but your team or organization need not totally overhaul its mission in order to connect kids to books. If you run a scouting or recreation program, you might consider starting a book discussion group that meets regularly at a local spot kids enjoy, like a burger joint, ice cream parlor, local park, coffee shop, or neighborhood library. Your local librarian can suggest age appropriate books that work well for kids’ book discussion groups. You may create an incentive program with an award or certificate for the kids on your team that read a designated number of books during the season. Legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson gave his players a reading list at the beginning of each season. You may choose to read a humorous poem at the beginning of your youth organization meetings. A Big Brother or Sister can take their charge to a great kid’s movie inspired by a children’s book, then go to the library or bookstore and get the book that inspired the movie and read it together. The opportunities to connect kids to books are limitless!

2005 (c) Mary Brigid Barrett; The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Helping Your Kids Find the Right Books

Summer Reading Recommendations  from Authoritative Sources Abound

Would you like to visit your local library or bookstore with a list of summer reading books for your kids in hand? Then check out inspiring recommendations from the following expert sources:
And don't forget to ask the librarian at your local library for help in finding just the right book for your child! He or she can help you find the perfect books for your kids based on their interests and reading levels.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Prevent the Summer Reading Slide!

To Spark Summer Learning,
Start with a Book!

Need help coming up with ideas to keep your child reading and writing over the summer? Reading Rockets’ Start with a Book has some cool ideas to jump start your summer learning adventures:

  •  Strengthen kids’ literacy, inquiry, and problem-solving skills with a combination of great books and the easy hands-on activities Start with a Book offers in these science-themed activity packs.
  • Use Start with a Book themes to plan reading and learning adventures in your own community. Take advantage of the related books, activities and apps selected to extend the learning.
  • Encourage kids to write about their learning adventures using this fun, downloadable Adventure Tracker
  • Can’t get to the library? Create your own summer reading program and let kids log all of their summer reading with the Start with a Book Summer Book Tracker
  • Sign up for Summer Reading Tips to Go and get more great ideas for reading, writing and hands-on summertime fun texted right to your phone, in English or Spanish.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Katerine Paterson On Set for GILLY

Behind the Scenes During Filming of
The Great Gilly Hopkins

Sophie Nelisse and Toby Turner act out a scene in the bus station.
S. E. Hinton did it in the film adaptation of her novel The Outsiders. And Louis Sachar did it in the film version of his book Holes. Now Katherine Paterson has done it--she has filmed a cameo role in the movie version of her novel The Great Gilly Hopkins, the story of the brash, brilliant, and completely unmanageable 11-year Gilly who is shuffled from foster home to foster home until she meets Maime Trotter. 

Katherine Paterson and Sophie Nelisse get direction for their scene.
Katherine admits on her website that her childhood dreams did not include wanting to become a writer, "The fact is that I never wanted to be a writer, at least not when I was a child, or even a young woman. Today I want very much to be a writer. But when I was ten, I wanted to be either a movie star or a missionary." And now, with her cameo role in The Great Gilly Hopkins, Paterson has attained her childhood wish!

Toby Turner, Sophie Nelisse, and Katherine Paterson.
The title role is played by the young Sophie NĂ©lisse. "Best Actress" Oscar winner Kathy Bates plays Maime Trotter. The star-studded cast also includes Julia Stiles, Octavia Spencer, Glenn Close, Toby Turner, Clare Foley, Bill Cobbs, Billy Magnussen,  Zachary Hernandes, Salvatore L. Rossi, and Sammy Pignalosa. 

The movie is tentatively scheduled to play in theaters in early 2015, but don't wait for the movie! Why not visit your local library and share the joy of this National Book Award and Newbery Honor winner with the young people in your life today?

Clare Foley and Sophie Nelisse.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Massachusetts! Your Libraries Need You!

A Call to Action to Massachusetts Residents from Library Advocates

Dear Massachusetts Library Supporters:

A Conference Committee – their names and contact info are at the end of this letter – has been appointed to resolve differences between the Senate and House versions of the FY15 State budget. Now is the critical time for all of us – librarians, trustees, friends, library users, anyone – to let members know it’s important to reverse some long-overdue library funding deficits. This year is a big opportunity. We must act, even if you never have before!!!

The Western Massachusetts Library Advocates (WMLA) urge funding of the Senate version of the FY15 State Budget for Mass Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) accounts:

7000-9401: State Aid to Regional Libraries:
Senate $9,883,482 vs. House $9,805,978

7000-9501 State Aid to Public Libraries:
Senate: $9,989,844 This amount restores state aid to the 2009 funding level. This is the increase the library community has needed for many years. The Conference Committee should support this increase. The House called for $7,223,657. While any increase is helpful, we feel the State should be able to return funding for this account to the amount it had 6 years ago!

7000-9506 Library Technology and Resource Sharing:
Senate: $2,867,823. Provides an increase of $938,585 over the FY 2014 budget. This increase over the House’s $2,129,238 will help end the Digital Lockout that really needs addressing.

Center for the Book:
In this case, WMLA supports the House Budget that created line 7000-9508 For the Center for the Book, Inc., chartered as the Commonwealth Affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress; provided, that the Massachusetts Center for the Book, Inc. shall be established as a public- private partnership charged with the development, support and promotion of cultural programming designed to advance the cause of books and reading and enhance the outreach of potential of public libraries within the Commonwealth $125,000. The Senate did not pass the amendment.

Conference Committee Members
If you live or work in one of these communities, please consider taking 5 minutes to contact your legislator to ask for their support of these important line items. If you don't live in the communities, please write to your State Senator and State Representative and ask them to contact the committee to urge support.

Senator Stephen Brewer:
Ashburnham, Athol, Barre, Brookfield, Charlton, East Brookfield, Hardwick, Hubbardston, New Braintree, North Brookfield, Oakham, Paxton, Petersham, Phillipston, Rutland, Spencer, Sturbridge, Templeton, Warren, West Brookfield and Winchendon, Brimfield, Holland, Monson, Palmer and Wales, Ware, Ashby
Email: Stephen.Brewer@masenate.gov.
State House: 617-722-1540, District: 978-355-2444

Senator Jennifer Flanagan:
Fitchburg, Gardner and Leominster, Berlin, Bolton, Clinton, Lancaster, Lunenburg, Sterling, Westminster, Townsend
Email: Jennifer.Flanagan@masenate.gov.
State House: 617-722-1230, District: 978-534-3388

Senator Richard Pat Ross Ferry:
Millis, Needham, Norfolk, Plainville, Wellesley, Wrentham, Attleboro, North Attleborough, Natick, Sherborn and Wayland
Email: Richard.Ross@masenate.gov.
State House: 617-722-1555

Representative Brian Dempsey:
Email: Brian.Dempsey@mahouse.gov.
State House: 617-722-2990
Thank you,

Sharon Shaloo
Massachusetts Center for the Book


Friday, May 30, 2014

A Tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou

Photo courtesy of the Maya Angelo website.
My Morning with Maya

Nervous and expectant, I stood outside the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in the rain waiting for Maya Angelou’s car to arrive. I had been corresponding by mail and phone with Professor Angelou’s assistant for months making sure everything was in order for this speaking engagement. Ms. Angelou would need a private room with fresh fruit and bottled still water where she could wait alone before she spoke, and retreat to later, for there was to be no interaction with the audience before or after her speech. Each week’s phone call with Professor Angelou’s assistant outlined new criteria and demands for the visit. I had begun wondering, and worrying, that one of my life heroes was a high maintenance prima donna.

—Later, I was to learn why her assistant had wanted a private room for her after her speech. The crowd that gathered in the lobby, awaiting her after her presentation, was like my Uncle Mike who when overjoyed, grabbed you, crushing you in a huge bear hug, completely unaware that his embrace was so tight you couldn’t breath. I had grown up around a lot of politicians and was used to crowds, but I had never seen anything like this. I knew I had to get Dr. Angelou out to her car fast. I nabbed my friend and assistant Sally Truslow and told Ms. Angelou I wanted to get her to her car swiftly and safely. She was trembling, the emotion from the crowd was that intense. Sally and I put one arm around each side of her, a wonderful security guard held an umbrella aloft, and we pushed through the crowd out to the car for her get-a-away. It was my first experience with crowd crush, I gained a whole new respect for those who work to protect notable people and dignitaries.—

The event being held was The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance’s first major production, a national symposium entitled “Children and Books at Crossroads," Friday, October 9, 1998. I had worked hard to get a high quality venue—the Kennedy Presidential Library— and worked even harder to get First Lady Hilary Clinton on board as the Honorary Chair of our event. I knew I needed a major presence, a person of depth, quality, and experience to anchor our roster of speakers, a person who knew and understood the power of the written word, a person who understood the transformational power of story and books in young people’s lives. I had long admired Maya Angelou and when I first mentioned to our board that I wanted to go after her as the morning keynote for our symposium, they were enthusiastic, but doubtful of her availability. But I knew if I could “get” Professor Angelou, she would be the solid cornerstone upon which I could then build the whole day’s quality content.

Thankfully, miraculously, Maya Angleou said yes. And because she said yes, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough said yes. And education activist and author of the powerfully moving book, “Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun,” Geoffrey Canada said yes. And CBS “Sunday Morning” host Charles Osgood said yes. And Harvard astrophysicist and literacy advocate Margaret Geller said yes. As did author Sven Birkerts, and Harvard professors Catherine Snow and Jeanne Chall, publisher Lisa Quiroz, and literacy advocates Dr. Perri Klass, William Truehart, and Elizabeth Segal. And Mrs. Teresa Heinz-Kerry honored us by personally chairing our symposium. They all joined the party because Maya Angelou was the first to say, yes, I will come.

A big black sedan pulled up in front of the library’s main entrance. I opened the door for Professor Angelou, introducing myself, welcoming her, helping her from the car, reaching high to hold an umbrella over her head. She immediately engaged me in conversation as we walked into the library and up the elevator to her private room, asking me in-depth questions about our organization and our goals. I get rather passionate when I talk about kids and books and reading, and as I shared information not covered in my correspondence, my nervousness disappeared. It was only later that I realized her interest and considerate questions were meant to put me at ease. The room the Kennedy Library had provided for her was lovely and quiet. She asked where everyone else was, and I explained our board members, with family and guests, were in a large, communal “Green Room” downstairs. She asked me to take her there, to meet everyone, and suggested we bring the bowl of fruit along with us. Before we stepped back onto the elevator, she stopped, placing her hand on my shoulder—even though her posture was curling forward and she leaned on a cane, she was so very tall. Why, you’re passionate believers, she said, a grassroots group reaching up, reaching out.

She entered the Green Room quietly, without fanfare or drama, but everyone riveted toward her anyway. She chose to sit at the table’s end, between a charming young intern from the Kennedy Library and my two daughters Elizabeth and Emily. Introducing herself, she engaged all three young women in conversation, asking them about themselves, their interests, their schools. They were entranced, and my mother heart overflowed with emotion, my mind and eyes making a mental snapshot of the moment for a life memory. CBS’s Charles Osgood was good-humouredly helping my husband Dick and our son Patrick hand-letter panelist name plates—a last minute rescue of an overlooked detail. The room was filled with board members and their spouses—Katherine and John Paterson, Patty and Bob MacLachlan, Sally and Bob Truslow, Natalie and Sam Babbitt and their daughter Lucy, David Macaulay, and Stephanie Loer, and dear friends and supporters Libby Rock and Grant Oliphant. Our organization, the NCBLA, has always been a family affair. Everyone mixed and mingled, introducing themselves and each other to Margaret Geller and Geoffrey Canada and other panelists as they joined us. Maya Angelou was just one of the NCBLA gang.

When Mrs. Heinz-Kerry arrived; it was game time. I escorted both Dr. Angelou and Mrs. Heinz up to stage left, where they could have a bit of privacy before their presentations. I got them some comfortable chairs, then headed to the podium. My job was to welcome attendees, set the tone for day, hopefully providing a bit of humor and inspiration, then introduce Mrs. Heinz-Kerry. Beyond teaching in front of my class at RISD, or giving a presentation at an SCBWI conference, I had very little public speaking experience. There I was, the girl from Cleveland’s West Side, standing at the podium in the Kennedy Presidential Library, in front of Congressional aides, literacy activists, children and family television producers and executives, professional educators, academics, major magazine editors, reporters, and one of my heroes, Maya Angelou—and I was terrified. Without a typed copy of my speech, I would never have remembered later what I said. I only remember that when I finished, after greeting Mrs. Heinz as she walked to podium, Maya Angelou was waiting in the wings. She cupped my face with both her hands, soft and warm, and told me, nicely done little chicken. Always, always follow your heart. We stood there together, her very tall, me very short. She held my hand tight as she waited to go onstage for her speech. And of course, she soared, the tempo and beat of her words and wisdom creating a song of inspiration and hope.

Thank you Maya Angelou for your courage and the many gifts you shared with the world. You were an incandescent flame of hope in weary world. Thank you for a morning of lovely memories.
Mary Brigid Barrett
President and Executive Director
The National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance