It’s an author’s dream to do a school visit and have each and every child in the audience that day leave with a signed copy. Not only is it an author’s dream, more importantly it’s a child’s dream.
And An Open Book Foundation makes dreams come true for kids, for educators and for authors. Their mission: “to promote literacy among disadvantaged children and teens in the greater Washington, D.C. area by giving books to students and schools and providing access to authors and illustrators.”
Dara La Porte, founder of An Open Book Foundation, saw the inequity in the schools and kids who got to welcome authors, whether in-house or at indie bookstores such as the wonderful Politics & Prose, where she once worked and she decided to do something about it. Knowing every child deserves a home library, with special books made even more special with author and illustrator signatures, she got to work raising money, writing grants, and getting the books into the hands of eager readers. She welcomed me to the DC area, escorting me from my hotel to Graham Road Elementary in Falls Church Virginia, with Aino Askaagar, and 12o copies of Grandfather Gandhi to give out to the awaiting students.
I was thrilled to see the awaiting stack of books, and even more thrilled to get to present to the kids. At school visits, we talk not only about the book, but also about becoming an author. We talk about drafting, ideas and I even admit my revision times. (Which are usually the age of the kids or older. Grandfather Gandhi took 8 years to revise and 12 before it hit the shelves!)
Then we get down to Gandhi. It’s surprising how many students today aren’t familiar with Gandhi and his work. I begin by talking to the kids about what they do know–that he is a leader, from India. Students may know he worked to free India from British rule. I ask who else the British once owned and when the answer is “US” as in U.S. or us, we go on to compare the Boston Tea Party to Gandhi’s Salt March and the idea that though he wanted freedom, he didn’t want to fight for it, but to rather use his words as weapons, creating lasting change.
After a reading of Grandfather Gandhi we discuss the themes and visual aspect of the book. This is always eye-opening for me as the kids in attendance bring new insights and questions to the discussion. Every school visit is joyful, as I love inspiring kids to read, but it is especially meaningful to me to have deep discussions with kids about anger and violence and how we can choose to act rather than react. Even though their grandfather isn’t a Gandhi, kids relate to the pressure to live up to family ideals, they relate to being shoved on the soccer field, and they relate to feeling “other” as Arun does on the ashram, and they relate to Arun’s hidden shame. The interesting thing is when we talk about our shame and our anger, it often disappears. And what we are left with is connection and all of us feeling and trying to better ourselves.
Thank you to the students at Graham Road Elementary for welcoming me, for participating in the discussion of transforming our anger from lightning to lamp, and for cherishing the donated books that Dara and the others at An Open Book Foundation work so hard to bring you.
“The students were really engaged and I loved the fact that the presentation was directly tied to what they are learning about in the classroom. We can’t thank you enough for spending some of your time at our school and giving us a peek into the life of an author!” Sima Patel, librarian