Book Harvest


As August slips towards Labor Day, I begin to feel the deeply-rooted childhood dread that school will be starting again. Then I remember I'm a grown up, and I don't have to go back to school! But now I choose to go back. For the past eight years, I've been returning to the classroom as a volunteer doing one of my favorite things—helping students tell their own stories and then making those stories into books. Last year's crop of books is on display for the month of August at the Arlington Central Library. I'm especially proud of these books and the students who made them. For the first time, I worked with fifth-grade English Language Learners (also called English for Speakers of Other Languages, ESOL), a group of students representing El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Mongolia, and Pakistan. We worked on three main projects through the year, building on their ability to tell a story. The first was an autobiographical "Close-Up" book with their photo made into a mosaic of pages on the back of which they wrote facts about themselves. The second was a comic book based on a fable from their country, and the third was a story about their family, illustrated with photos and drawings and designed on iPads. Using the Shutterfly app to make their family stories meant they ended up with a book that was professionally printed, bound, and "published." I worked with a fabulous team at Long Branch Elementary School that included their Language Arts teacher, the school librarian, the school IT teacher, and another writing volunteer (yes, it does take a village). Learning to tell stories effectively is fundamental to self-expression. Together we watched the students grow in their confidence with both their verbal and written skills (and their drawings were wonderful, too). Seeing stories in book form makes them special. All of these books will become family heirlooms, made more precious because each of these authors represents the hopes of an immigrant family.

Another spin-off from my years of encouraging student stories is Book Bubble. The Arlington Public Library is creating a series of videos using student stories and illustrations from the Long Branch creative book projects. The first one went online this spring. It's a delightful story opportunity for young children and a marvelous showcase for the work of student authors.