by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
Every year at the International Literacy Association (ILA) conference, Scholastic Book Clubs serves breakfast to 500 teachers, and invites beloved, bestselling, as well as new favorite authors and illustrators to talk to the assembled teachers about their own favorite teachers.
It’s a highlight of our year because the authors love to have a chance to acknowledge the teachers who made a real difference in their lives and careers—and, needless to say, the teachers in the audience are thrilled and inspired to hear the authors’ stories of how teachers like them make a real, lasting difference. There are lots of laughs and happy tears in that ballroom each year.
My job is to welcome everyone to the breakfast and make the introductions, and each year, standing in front of all those tables of teachers, I feel compelled to tell one of my own favorite “favorite teacher stories”:
Once upon a time, before we modernized our warehouse, we had such a positive response to our book orders that we were having trouble shipping Book Club Book Boxes in a timely way. The holidays were coming and our teacher customers were understandably upset. The shipping conveyer belts were backed up out the door and our customer service telephone reps couldn’t handle the call volume. Angry teachers ended up on hold with music for long wait times.
One very resourceful teacher refused to wait on the phone any longer, so she found my direct-dial office number in New York City. I answered the phone to a very, very, very loud voice on the other end screaming at me about where her book order was! And she was not taking anything other than “YES! IT’S COMING THIS WEEK” for an answer.
I figured out a way to get her Book Box shipped to her, soon our shipping straightened itself out, and our customer service reps could handle the business-as-usual calls they were used to getting, but I couldn’t shake the idea of that teacher who cared so much about getting her books to her students. I decided that anyone with that kind of dedication and determination needs to come and work with us.
I found that teacher. Her name is Carol Levine, a second grade teacher in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. I convinced Carol to first consult and then come work with us full-time. Today, many years later, Carol is still cooking—um…I mean ordering—eggs for 500 teachers each year at ILA and begging, coaxing, cajoling, and doing whatever it takes to bring amazing authors to the conference and the breakfast stage to address the teachers in attendance.
The lineup of authors who have shared their favorite teacher memories at these breakfasts reads like a who’s who of children’s books: Sharon Creech, Peter H. Reynolds, Dan Santat, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Gordon Korman, Jerry Pallotta, Patricia Polacco, Walter Dean Myers, and so many more.
Thinking about those ILA breakfasts in general and the late Walter Dean Myers in particular dovetails so well with this week’s Dollar Deal: Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. Love That Dog, beautifully written and accessible and beloved by all children who pick it up, celebrates many things: the power of poetry, the brilliant and beloved Walter Dean Myers himself, and how thrilling it is when a real author visits your school and brings books and writing alive. And for me, on top of all that, Love That Dog celebrates the incredible power of classroom teachers to change lives.
“People will love that dog, and this book.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In the story, Miss Stretchberry gently coaxes Jack to share his poems, and he goes from being reluctant and cynical to passionate and confident. Miss Stretchberry, respectfully and gingerly—but with that steadfast determination that is at the core of most of the amazing teachers I know—encourages Jack to explore his ideas and his feelings and his happy and sad memories—all of it— through poetry, helping him find and use his own voice.
The confidence, affirmation, and power Jack gets from Miss Stretchberry in Love That Dog triggered a lovely and important memory for David Vozar:
“My favorite character from Love That Dog is Miss Stretchberry, who keeps inspiring Jack to keep writing poetry by posting his poems on the blackboard for all to see.
“The story reminds me so vividly of Mrs. Serringa, who would put my art on the bulletin board, transforming it from something I didn’t think was very good to something I was very proud of. With Mrs. Serringa—and other teachers I had—believing in me, I learned to believe in myself.”
Teachers are my heroes. The professional skills and passion they bring to the classroom every day is awe-inspiring. I believe—as do many of the people who work at Scholastic—that teachers have the most important job on the planet. I won’t get political here, but teachers deserve our collective respect, appreciation, and continuous support. Partnering with families, teachers hold our children’s futures as successful learners, readers—and citizens—in their hands.
Some of my best friends are teachers. My mother was a teacher. My grandmother was a teacher. Some of my favorite characters in children’s books are teachers, and they stand beside Miss Stretchberry as true literary role models: Mr. Falker (in Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker), Ms. Frizzle (from the Magic School Bus series), Mr. Slinger (in Kevin Henkes’s Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse), Miss Binney (in Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest), and Miss Honey (in Roald Dahl’s Matilda). And there are lots and lots more.
At Scholastic Book Clubs, we will do everything in our power to help teachers get the resources—and the professional support—they need to do the very best job they can, teaching, inspiring, motivating, coaxing, cajoling, and mentoring their students every single day in their classrooms.
One of these 2019–2020 Scholastic Book Clubs Teacher Advisors, Kerry-Ann Reeves, had a student, Ella, who made a shape poem of her favorite teacher. I’d like to share it with you here. Please also check out Kerry-Ann’s video of Love That Dog in Book Talks.
Who was your favorite teacher? I’d love to hear from you—please let me know by emailing me at: JNBlog@scholastic.com
I hope you love Love That Dog and that it inspires you to write some poems of your own and reflect on the wonderful teachers in your own life.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs