Many thanks to Ms. Stephanie Harper, librarian at Washington Elementary STEM School in Kenner, LA. Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve had the privilege to visit students and talk to them about our precious wetlands and their importance and to share the story of how things down the bayou have changed over the past 30 years or so.
Ms. Harper planned this fun event called “Family Literacy Night – Throw me some literacy, Mister!”, which some of you Louisianians will recognize as going right along with the Mardi Gras chant of “Throw me something, Mister!”. What an ingenious idea! It was an evening event, and I was pleasantly surprised at the number of children and parents that showed up, not to mention the teachers who willingly stayed “after school” to man their respective craft tables.
Many of the teachers and children were dressed in the classic festive colors of Mardi Gras–purple, green, and gold. The children went from table to table creating crafts like Mardi Gras masks and hats, bead art, and trying their hand at a Bingo-like game called Gumbo (my second favorite).
But the game that I most enjoyed watching the children (and principal!) play was “Musical Mardi Gras Words”! The children walked/danced around in a circle made of Mardi-Gras related words typed in big letters on pieces of paper taped to the floor to the tunes of “Mardi Gras Mambo” and Fats Domino’s “Going to See the Mardi Gras“. When the music stopped, the emcee drew a word from a bucket, and the children then had to look down and read the word to see if they were indeed standing on “King Cake” or “Parade” or “Beads”. The lucky kid standing on the chosen word then got to choose a book from the basket! What a brilliant way to make an active kid want to pick a book!
These children ranged from K through 5th grades, and I was really impressed with how well behaved they ALL were. At no time during that 90 minutes did I hear anyone being corrected for misbehaving. I’m not sure why I was so impressed by their good behavior, other than the fact that I’ve been to many schools across the state over the years, and there was always one or two children that needed correcting at each event. At an active event like this, one would think it might become a free-for-all of running around the gym or one of mass chaos, but these children were engaged, interested, and attentive. So, teachers and staff at Washington Elementary, keep doing what you’re doing!
The children created crafts, played games, and danced around the word circle for over an hour before Ms. Harper asked them to gather around to hear a special presentation. I wasn’t sure how it would go–them having to stop their fun to listen to me read a book. Seems rather boring, doesn’t it? But they all, parents and children alike, made their way over to the bleachers and quickly sat down. My book has nothing to do with the gaiety of Mardi Gras, so I hoped I wouldn’t bore them to tears. Yeah, I was a little intimidated, even after having read this book to thousands of children, but they were a brilliant audience, and they made me welcome.
During the festivities, Ms. Harper had walked a 4th-grade boy over the me, whose name was Ranasse. I asked him if he was shy and quiet, to which he softly answered no. I then asked him if he was just too cool for all this kid stuff, to which he smiled and said yes. So, I told him I had a little surprise for him if he would stick around until the end and listen to me read my book. He promised he would, and in doing so gave me the perfect segue into the book.
After the introductions, I took the mic, looked around and asked, “Where’s Ranasse?” Way over on the left end, he stood up. I said, “Ranasse, there’s a word in this book that rhymes with your name. Really and truly, there is, but you must listen closely because it is a French word. Can you do that?” He nodded, and off we launched into the the 14th birthday reading of Before the Saltwater Came. By the way, that word is “trainasse”, and it’s pronounced just like his name. I hope he felt special and that one day he might become a writer, or a biologist, or a wetland scientist. Wouldn’t that be spectacular? I love to think BIG!
I’d really like to believe that everyone hung around because they wanted to hear an “author” read a book, but don’t be fooled! Being the savvy librarian and kid wrangler that she is, Ms. Harper had saved the VERY best for last–KING CAKE. Those well-behaved children knew that if they just sat through listening to this old lady go on and on about an otter and how she moved her otter family up the bayou, they would be rewarded with a delectable piece of that holiday treat! Seriously, though, these kids deserved it!
To Ms. Harper and to Principal Turnbull, thank you so much for allowing me to be at your school and to share our story with your students. It is my deep hope that some seed was planted in their little brains about their futures and the future of our state’s valuable wetlands. It was my sincere pleasure.
As always, comments below are welcomed and much appreciated!