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Like Water

Dear Keith,

It’s been awhile. I hope this letter finds you well.

Remember that Christmas after we met? I was so in love with your little friend Ralph. All I wanted was a talking mouse, but I knew that wouldn’t happen so I begged Santa to give me a motorcycle. I couldn’t wait to make that magical pb-pb-b-b-b sound and do wheelies on my family’s cold, tile floor.

It’s probably not surprising to hear, shortly after, I had a thing for chocolate bars. I was so mad when I figured out candy companies took advantage of those of us who believed those golden tickets were actually worth anything. They weren’t really. I know that now.

You’d be glad to know Margaret was there for me when I started my period. I was grateful for that. None of my other friends had ‘started’ so I would have been alone if she hadn’t shown up.

You wouldn’t know it, but I took you with me to high school. That’s when my brothers introduced me to Cliff Notes. Have you met him? He’s really good at explaining things, but he’s nothing like you. He’s more like the helpful neighbor who fixes your broken window or door hinge and you’re more like the neighbor who hands you the tools and shows you how to change your flat tire and glue the table leg back together.

By the way, I haven’t thanked you for all the introductions. I met so many people because of you. There was that really weird dude, Garp, and that poor sap, Lancelot and, oh my God, that Carrie girl…between you and me, she needs some serious help.

I had so many friends by the time I headed to college I never felt alone…except that freshmen year. That’s when I realized some things about myself that didn’t settle so well. I never met him but there was some Leviticus guy telling everyone about how I was evil and going to hell. Luckily I met some other people and they taught me that Leviticus was entitled to his opinion and I didn’t have to agree with him or listen to him. I just had to respect him and move on with my life.

After college I met more people and went more places than ever. I rode a train in Africa with a guy named Peekay, flew a plane with a woman named Beryl and twice was almost attacked by a lion! There’s so much to tell you about where I went and who I met, but you get the point, right? It’s all your fault.

Well, you and Ms. Cera.

I still remember her setting you down in front of me, soothing me with her words, convincing me I’d like you, I’d want a motorcycle and I’d need a pocket mouse. “You’ll like this, I swear,” she said. “If you don’t we’ll try another one.”

I liked having a way out. I knew it would be okay if I gave up, but I didn’t and I did like you and the vacation and the hotel and of course, Ralph.

I loved Ms. Cera. I saw her a few months ago. She’s still doing her thing, working with kids, introducing them to new people, new places, new ideas.

That’s what I’ve been doing too, over the past 29 years, just trying to build relationships. Mine with my students, theirs with books.

Did you know my mom was a library-mom? You know the ones, Saturday morning library runs more important than Sunday Sabbaths. “You’re gonna read, Missy,” the title of every lecture series. I never questioned my destiny. Books.

The thing is my students don’t have library moms and the majority of kids I meet don’t even know you exist and the adults I meet don’t know that’s a problem.

I retire from teaching on May 25th. It’s sad to leave the kids but it’s exciting to think of my new adventures, finding people who want to get books into kids’ hands, books with characters who will help kids form their own lives the way you helped me form mine.

But there will be detractors. How do I explain to them that books are like water? Will they even know our bodies are 60% H2O? I suppose that will sound like hyperbole to a non-reader or one of those book-banning people, but not to me. I know what you did for me, how our friendship lead me to so many more friendships and places and understandings, thoughts and ideas.

I guess it will take some serious struggle on my part to convince the world our kids need more than Guided Reading, reading groups and class sets of books. They need differentiation. They deserve books that reflect their own lives, time to forge their own paths, and space to create their own thoughts so they can prosper and grow both emotionally as well as academically.

I don’t know how I’m going to convince the detractors. I can’t say for sure what happens to other people, but for me it is a question I don’t want answered.

What if we’d never met?

Thank you for everything, and I literally mean everything.


Your biggest fan

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