by Judy Newman with Alexie Basil
Last week, I was invited to travel to Denver for two school visits and a celebration gala for Book Trust, so…
I went to Newark Liberty International Airport by riding in a car through the Holland Tunnel; I boarded a United Airlines plane (I think it was a 737); and two hours after I left (flight time of four hours minus a two-hour time difference), I landed at Denver International Airport.
There, I boarded a shuttle train to the terminal; went up two long escalators to baggage claim; and then got in another car, which took me to my hotel in downtown Denver.
I know why I was going to Denver—to celebrate Book Trust, an amazing nonprofit organization that gives $7 a month to underserved kids, allowing them to choose books from Scholastic Book Clubs they will love and read and take home. (You can learn more about Book Trust here.)
But I have no idea how I got there.
What I mean is, I literally don’t know how I got there. The fact that an airplane can fly is beyond a mystery to me. My husband, Jeff, (mostly) patiently tries to explain “lift and thrust,” but I still cannot comprehend how a metal bird that weighs several tons can get off the ground and stay aloft. Let alone offer entertainment options and Wi-Fi onboard.
(I don’t even understand how real birds fly, for that matter.)
I learned only recently that the heavily trafficked Holland Tunnel (which connects New Jersey, where I live, to New York, where I work, and which I have to beat my way through several times a day—including when I have to get to Newark Airport) was built under the riverbed. I always thought it went through the river.
And even the basic functioning of the car that took me to the airport is beyond me. Why, when I turn the key (or these days, push the ignition button) does the car start and let me drive somewhere?
Jeff, in addition to understanding aeronautics, loves classic cars and loves (well, loves/hates) working on them most weekends in the garage. Since I realize my lack of understanding of cars is pathetic—I can’t even change a tire—I thought it was time to stop taking driving for granted and get in the garage to work on a car project.
I asked Jeff if he would help me get an old cheap “beater” of a car that we could work on together, which would help me understand the inner workings of an automobile engine.
His first—and second—reaction was, “Are you sure you want that?” Followed by: “It’s kind of like me saying I want to take up needlepoint.”
Along with recognizing Jeff’s antipathy toward handicrafts and working with a small needle, I do also understand passive aggressiveness. So I pushed through the needlepoint comment and tried to refocus Jeff on helping me understand auto mechanics.
And I’ll admit that when he started to explain to me how carburetors, internal combustion (Huh? A “controlled fire” in your engine?), and other assorted car parts work, my eyes did glaze over.
I’ll let you know how this project goes.
The list of dependent relationships I have with objects I do not understand goes on and on: elevators, escalators, the microphones Ruby Bridges held during her school visit and her Book Trust speech, and the one I used when interviewing amazing fourth graders in front of the Book Trust crowd. I have no idea how these things are made or why they work. And I don’t even understand why there’s a time difference between New York and Denver.
But what I do understand is the power of books and reading to change lives. And I totally understand how the two school visits Ruby Bridges and I made to local Denver schools—and the wonderful celebration of Book Trust that evening—are part of the work that is making a huge difference in giving all kids access to wonderful books they can choose themselves based on who they are and what they like to read.
In the morning, we accompanied civil rights champion Ruby Bridges on a school visit, where she wowed a cafetorium full of 250 second, third, and fourth graders with the story of how, when she was six years old, she was asked to integrate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. You probably know the Norman Rockwell painting The Problem We All Live With, which immortalized Ruby’s daily walk through a gauntlet of a raging white supremacist and anti-integrationist mob with the incredible grace and dignity of an extraordinary child.
Ruby explained to these rapt Denver students how the only person who would talk to her in the school for an entire year was her teacher, Barbara Henry. Mrs. Henry came from Boston to New Orleans to teach, and when all the white families pulled their children out of Ruby’s classroom, Mrs. Henry and Ruby were alone for one entire year.
This story—of a fearless and dedicated teacher who was totally committed to her student against all kinds of pressures and distractions—is something I can understand.
I can also understand how that same passion and dedication is embodied in another amazing teacher I met in Denver: Ms. Kaylan Robinson. I understand why “Ms. Kay” (as she is known to her students, colleagues, and Mr. Andrew Schutz, the principal) is such a beloved fourth grade teacher. Ms. Kay is all about empowering her students and finding ways to inspire them to love books and reading.
I also understand the five incredible kids—Miguel Jiminez, Ashanti Baker, Yadira Morales, Marviann Komet, and Uriel Garcia Cervantes—who rehearsed so hard so that they could join me onstage in front of a room of 500 people to talk about their favorite books and the power of being able to choose and own your own books. And why they love to read.
Check out these photos from an incredible night all about the power of seeing yourself in the books you choose and becoming a reader.
The thing about my friend and elementary school rock-star author, Jerry Pallotta, is that he understands both how things work and the power of amazing teachers and great books to change lives. His mantra is “read a zillion books,” and there are so many copies of his many titles in print that he’s certainly helping kids reach that zillion goal.
Jerry has an incredible curiosity about the natural world and then he sets out to create books that inspire readers of all ages to understand the world they live in. He has dedicated his incredible career, writing and publishing more than 70 books, with collectively tens of millions of copies in print, for readers of all ages.
Jerry Pallotta’s The Icky Bug Alphabet Book was published in 1986. In it, Jerry uses the familiar structure of an alphabet book to showcase cool, interesting, and digestible facts about 26 insects to make learning about the natural world both fascinating and accessible.
I’m excited to share that The Icky Bug Alphabet Book is also this week’s Dollar Deal!
“For many children, ‘icky’ bugs are endlessly fascinating. This book helps children discover why farmers like the praying mantis, how the water spider breathes underwater, and other intriguing facts about the world of bugs and insects.” —Goodreads
Thanks to Jerry, I know a little more about bugs and insects than I do about mechanized transportation or tunnels, but not that much.
David Vozar seems a little more connected to the physical world—and definitely to insects—than I am. Here he calibrates his reactions to assorted bugs that have crossed his path:
This week on the blog, you can join the Book Boys on a bug hunt; discover how kindergarten teacher Beth Narkiewicz uses the book as a science resource in Book Talks; check out an exclusive video with Jerry Pallotta in Behind the Scenes; and play an Icky Bug Bingo classroom activity in Cooked Up from a Book!
I hope you and your students enjoy this week’s Dollar Deal, The Icky Bug Alphabet Book, and that it inspires you to always stay curious and learn more about the things that fascinate you.
This Book Is Available from Scholastic Book Clubs