One of the reasons I LOVE going to conferences is meeting authors of the books I have loved and shared over the years. Guilt sometimes washes over me as I think there might be some that think I should attend a “how to teach reading” session. But then my heart and head take over…stories matter…a lot. There are times when I’m frustrated because I have had to choose between author sessions that are scheduled at the same time. Which one? But I’ve been blessed to hear many of my most favorite writers for children. I collect their stories and store them in my mind treasure box to pull out as needed.
I am a reading coach for our district. There was some unexpected unscheduled time last Monday. So I went hunting to find a class that was ready for independent practice reading where I could quietly slip in to confer with readers. BINGO! A third grade classroom. Teacher was fine with me coming in with no notice. I sit beside one reader after another and we talk about reading and their current read. I approach a boy who has a picture book opened. As soon as I sit down, I notice the illustrations. Clearly Tomie dePaola. “Are you familiar with this author?” I ask. He turns to the cover and looks at the name and shakes his head no. I smile as I think of my memory of sitting in a school auditorium several years ago in Goshen at the “feet” of Tomie dePaola. I remember the auditorium ringing with laughter at the stories Tomie dePaola tells about his mischievous escapades as a child although some school experiences were tinged with sadness. “Oh, let me tell you about Tomie dePaola. When he was your age he was mischievous. Are you ever mischievous? Wait until you hear this. His grandmother was a wonderful Italian cook and Tomie loved her and her cooking. In fact Tomie now enjoys having guests over at his house and cooking for them. Often his Grandmother would use a recipe that would call for chicken but she didn’t go to the store for chicken. She would butcher the chickens she needed. She had to remove the chicken’s head and feet. Tomie would always ask for the chicken legs and feet. He would then put them in his coat pocket. When it was time for recess he would hold the chicken feet and legs in his hands and then pull his hands inside his coat sleeves so that only the feet and legs would be showing. He would then chase the girls all over the playground. I need to tell you something else about chicken feet and legs. There is a nerve that is attached to the feet and legs. As soon as Tomie would get close to the girls, he would pull on the nerve. The chicken’s feet would move as if the feet were alive. Oh, the girls would scream and run away. Tomie would just find more girls to chase or chase the same ones over and over.” The Tomie chicken and feet story again pulled out from the treasure chest…to unlock the magic of story.