Today’s post is inspired by Katherine Sokolowski and the incomparable Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Fifteen minutes before class. I had my rolling cart ready. Stacks of chapter books for our read-aloud practice. Stacks of nonfiction picture books for book talks and independent reading time. Today’s read-aloud selected. (David McPhail’s The Teddy Bear, if you’re curious.) Handouts organized. Whiteboard markers chosen. Water bottle full.
I had just enough time to read a few slices, looking for inspiration for the piece I had yet to write–or even conceive. The very first slice I read was Katherine’s lovely tribute to Amy Krouse Rosenthal, beloved picture book author, who died yesterday. And with that slice, my writing plans and my teaching plans changed.
I first discovered Amy in 2005. That was the year she published Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, a memoir utterly unlike any I’d read before (or since). Nothing major had happened to Amy. She didn’t have tales of trauma and woe to process. She didn’t have any great achievements to share. Hers was an ordinary life. But her creativity as a writer helped her write a most extraordinary memoir in the form of an alphabetic encyclopedia of herself. Amy noticed things that other people wouldn’t think to notice. And even if they did notice, they wouldn’t think to write them down. By writing them down and carefully juxtaposing her observations about life, she made the quotidian special.
Encyclopedia is one of those touchstone books for me, a book I return to again and again, always discovering something new, always finding new inspiration to write. It’s a book I’ve shared with a dozen or more classes, and my students also find inspiration in it. “You mean we can write about that?” Absolutely!
I also came to know Amy through her whimsical projects. My college students love The Money Tree and Positive Pranking and are often inspired to dream up their own projects and spread some joy and wonder.
Most teachers probably know her through her picture books, and I think she does something truly special as a picture book author. I can’t think of another author for children who manages to blend equal parts whimsy, cleverness, comfort and heart in their work in the way she does. It’s a tricky business writing picture books, but somehow in book after book Rosenthal gets it right for readers of every age.
I knew I wanted to pay tribute to Amy today in my Children’s Literature class, so in the few minutes remaining before class began, I gathered as many AKR picture books as I could from my shelves and selected what’s perhaps the most heartfelt to read aloud.
I wasn’t entirely sure I could make it through a read aloud of I Wish You More without crying, and I seriously considered letting that be an option for independent reading time and committing myself to something a little more fun and funky for read aloud. But as soon as I saw the yellow umbrellas in Katherine’s post, I knew I also wanted my students to write their own and add some whimsy and joy to our campus this afternoon, Amy-style. So I Wish You More it had to be.
We read the book, and I stayed dry-eyed–only because I did not allow myself to think of my son a single time while reading. My students got markers and posters and had a few minutes to compose a message of something lovely they wanted to wish their fellow students on campus. At the end of class, I sent them off with their yellow umbrella posters and several pieces of tape and the assignment to hang their poster somewhere on campus for others to enjoy.
For the rest of the afternoon, I found such delight in coming upon these posters in unexpected places–in the stairwell, on the back of the door, outside a different classroom, by the water fountain, and even in the women’s bathroom. I’m hoping the posters spread across campus and that others might be discovered on the sidewalk, on trees, inside the men’s bathroom, outside the dorms.
Here’s to more whimsy and joy!
Thanks, Amy (and Katherine!).
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