One Book, One School: Some Photos & Reflections

I love this photo, somehow it says everything. This is why you write for children, those faces up there.

A while back I posted about how Bystander was being featured in some special “One Book, One School” reading programs. Lately I’ve been getting more requests in that area, and all I can say is that I love the idea of a shared reading experience that cuts across, and unifies, an entire school. It’s a tremendous honor when the educational leaders of a school select my book for that purpose. Stunning, amazing.

I was recently sent some photos by Joan Scott, the Library Media Specialist at Ephraim Curtis Middle School in Sudbury, MA. Here’s a few more:

For this particular visit, I was able to enjoy lunch with a select group of students. It’s just so much fun to sit down with these kids and really talk together — and for me, to hear them speak, and watch them fiddle with their Oreos, and listen as they share their thoughts and more than a few laughs.

I’m sorry that I can’t recall the name of this particular teacher, but it’s a great opportunity for me whenever I get the chance to sit down with real teachers in the trenches and learn from their perspective.

I’ve said it before. Just as in every other aspect of life, what a school puts into an author visit has a direct correlation to what the students get out of it. At Ephraim, the students were focused, prepared, and engaged — and that’s the key to a successful author visit, and a tribute to everyone at the school.

Here I am with the school principal Stephen Lambert and Joan Scott, who spearheaded the event. On some visits, I never meet the principal, as they are busy people with demanding jobs. Other times, I’ll meet one whose presence, whose attention and personal commitment, sends a powerful message to every student. This topic is important to us, we place value on this moment, and we care about you. Throughout the day, I chatted with this Principal Lambert and I can’t begin to express how impressed I was. Our conversations were wide and thought-provoking. Conclusion: This is a good man attempting to do the absolute best for the students and fellow educators in his school.

Honestly: Is this a remedy for bullying? Do events like this help? No one can say for sure. It can’t be measured. But I do believe that open honest dialogue, back and forth, feels like a crucial step in the right direction. Change can’t happen in a day. And a single book isn’t going to amount to much. But when an entire school comes together like this, the message is loud and clear:

We are a community of learners, we value things like respect and tolerance and compassion, because we understand that learning can’t begin without those qualities firmly in place.

In an interview earlier this year, I was asked: Is there anything that readers of [Bystander] can take from this story in order to better deal with bullies? I replied:

There are no easy answers. Quick story: My oldest son is sixteen. I often worried when he didn’t talk about his feelings. He’d clam up. Then I realized, he doesn’t necessarily have the vocabulary to even know what he’s feeling. To paraphrase Ron Burgandy in “Anchorman,” he was trapped inside a glass booth of emotion. Language is important, it’s a tool to help us perceive things, name things, understand. It’s common for kids to say something like, “Oh, I didn’t know that was bullying; I was just making fun of her shoes.” Like any good book, hopefully Bystander enriches the way readers understand their world.

I’m grateful I was able to spend a day at Ephraim Curtis Middle School, and inspired by their effort to address the issue with open, ongoing, thoughtful communication. Everybody pulling on the same oar. My thanks to everyone who helped make it possible. For those who may be curious, please know that Bystander will be published in paperback in Fall, 2011.

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