…reflecting on Socratic Seminars, Scholastic Book Fairs and the impact of a librarian by Stacey James McAdoo…
For as long as I can remember books have always surrounded me. It’s hard to describe the comfort they provide. One of my favorite childhood memories is lying in my momma’s bed listening to her summarize the books she read. I loved the way her words made me feel connected with the character (and author). I would ask a ton of questions about the plot, the character’s background and their motives. Each answer conjured up a memory from my personal life… or a story from another book… or another author… and would prompt another question…and another discussion. Momma’s king-sized bed hosted many Literature Circles and Socratic Seminars years before we had the academic language to label what we were doing.
While I love stimulating conversations and being able to see and hear words, nothing compares to the physicality of it all – of being able to hold someone’s thoughts in my hand, to run my fingers across them, feel the texture of the page (or the gloss of the cover) and interact with the text. Therefore, when I wasn’t in momma’s bed discussing fiction, it was not uncommon to find me sprawled out on the den floor perusing through her medical textbooks. If I wasn’t discovering a diagnosis for an ailment that I may or may not have had before reading about it, then I was probably daydreaming about the places and content I discovered sandwiched inside of our My First Britannica and/or Encyclopedia Britannica’s.
Way before I ever knew anything about mocha lattes, chain bookstores or purchasing books online I had my beloved elementary Scholastic Book Fairs. Oh, how I looked forward to them! I would hastily survey the catalog and make perfect circles around all the titles and summaries that looked appealing. I could hardly wait to get home to show and discuss them with momma. When my thirst to purchase books from the school fair exceeded the allotted amount she set aside from her pocketbook, my local library became my next best friend.
Mrs. Melrita Bonner, the librarian at old my neighborhood branch, was quite literally the exact opposite of every common stereotype associated with librarians. Instead of tightly sealed lips with deep folds or a “shhh” mouth behind an angry index finger; her mouth, palms and arms were usually wide open …motioning you over and welcoming you in. She was radiant, encouraging and beamed with a “honey baby chile/shugahbaby” joy that made you feel right at home. Oooooh, and when she laughed, the walls would catch it, toss it over to the spines on the shelves and make every book in the library smile.
My platform as the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year is about using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap. Mrs. Bonner’s passion for literacy and her love for the community including the youth within it (alongside long-time literacy advocate and visionary Mr. Patrick Oliver) helped close the gap for me by providing me with an opportunity & a safe (public) place to grow. One of the first places I ever publicly shared any of my original poetry was at the SWLR library branch with Word! Up (my first spoken word poetry troupe). During the performance, I fixated my eyes on Mrs. Bonner’s smile. Her virtual love & nonverbal approval carried me through. Although it’s been twenty-five plus years since that performance…and twelve years since her retirement…three things remain the same: (1) her terms of endearment (2) her beautiful smile and virtual love continue to push me towards greatness and (3) every time I check out or read a great book, I think of her.
Leave a comment with the title of a book that has had a profound impact on you or share the name of the most current book you’ve read/are reading.
*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 16 year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*