Classroom Storytelling Spawns Student, Community Benevolence
Power of 1 Good Book
By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
Copyright Clare County Cleaver
HARRISON – The power of a book must never be underestimated, as the scope and impact of a well-told story can be far-reaching, multiplying with each life it touches.
Recently, at Hillside Elementary in Harrison, just such a book was shared by fifth-grade teacher Heather Jensen when she read “LOVE” by Matt de la Pena to her students. Jensen said they immediately connected to the book’s message that love is more than just words, but also is found in the workaday actions of others. She also said the photos are so socially inclusive that virtually all the students could see themselves in the story.
Jensen said the book came out about three weeks ago on New Book Tuesday.
“They’re always on my porch at home, so it’s always exciting Wednesday morning to come in because of the books,” she said. “This is a book I preordered last June. I knew it was going to be fabulous because the author Matt de la Pena’s past work is just amazing.”
Jensen said she went home, read the book, “fell in love with it,” and knew she would share it with her class the very next day. She said her class knew the book would be special, because she was hugging the book as she described it.
“They ran and got the box of Kleenex, because they know me as a reader,” she said.
Jensen described the book’s illustrations and message as “simply amazing.”
“Amazing because there’s love in the world and we surround ourselves with love,” she said. “And the illustrations, every walk of life could find themselves in one of the illustrations. They’ve done a really great job of depicting life.”
After Jensen had finished reading the book to her class, the students were so taken with the book they wanted every classroom to have a copy. Student Kaleb Williams then spoke out saying there should be a fundraiser to help buy the books.
“I thought everybody should have it, and later that day she put it on Facebook, “Kaleb said. “After that somebody sent a book in, and after that everybody just started sending at random.”
“Every day on my personal Facebook, I do what I call Public School Pride and I talk about an awesome thing that happens in our school,” Jensen said. “That day I just talked about this book, Kaleb’s idea about starting a fundraiser.”
She said people expressed interest in a fundraiser, but after a former teacher decided to simply send a copy of the book, the whole thing spiraled. Other friends started posting and sharing about the effort.
“We’re at 34 copies that have been donated,” Jensen said. “And we have at least five more coming this week. We’ve had seven anonymous donors, just a book will show up.”
She said that means every classroom at Hillside will get a copy, and that all of her students are going into those classrooms and reading the book to those classes.
“We’re sending copies to Larson [Elementary],” she said. “We’ve sent copies around the state to other elementary schools who have expressed interest. We gave one to the Northern Michigan Mobile Child Advocacy Center. We’re going to give one to the Clare County Jail. And they’ve talked about some Ronald McDonald Houses, hospitals. We’re researching different places to give them to.”
Kaleb jumped in saying he wants to give one to St. Jude’s Research Hospital and to the nursing home where his grandmother works.
“Because it will touch somebody’s heart,” Kaleb said.
“So, we have one through 34,” Jensen said. “And for every book we have, we’re going to find a place for it, whether it’s in a school, a hospital, wherever.
“We want to spread love. This came from this group of kids and I cry about it almost every day, because it’s amazing and I get goosebumps.”
The class also has made bookmarks to go into every book.
“It’s just been pretty fabulous,” Jensen said.
Kaleb spoke of another author who had sent the class a book, who also had heard of the class’s effort to share the “LOVE” book with others. He read aloud that author’s note:
Hi Heather. Please tell Kaleb he should be very proud of himself for thinking of this terrific project. Hugs, Ruth McNally Barshaw.
“She’s a Michigan author who writes the Ellie McDoodle books, and she’s been to our school,” Jensen said. “She saw the post and she’s spreading it far and wide. She told Matt de la Pena about it, and he’s asked questions about it.”
Jensen said she told her class the author knew about their project, and how awesome it is.
Kaleb is highly enthusiastic about the importance of the book and its message to children. He also eagerly points out his favorite illustration pages, his first favorite being a scene of a young person and an older person fishing.
“That’s my favorite one,” Kaleb said. “I love to fish with my grandpa’s friend.”
He pointed out his next favorite page as one showing a man in tattered clothes playing a guitar in front of a subway station, where his musical “love notes” float up into the sky.
“I can relate to this whole book,” Kaleb said. “I can relate it to me, I can relate it to Mrs. Jensen. You might even be able to relate it to yourself.”
Jensen said she can’t get more than two pages into any read aloud without any interaction happening, which she says is “awesome.” She also said lots of her students have been spurred by the book to write works of their own.
“I’m writing a book myself, with another friend,” Kaleb said. “We’re thinking that in our book, one of the people should be reading this book [“LOVE”].”
Jensen, who has been teaching fifth grade at Hillside since 1993, said her class celebrates books in general, but this book just seemed to hit home. She said she always tries to choose books which create empathy and celebrate all walks of life.
“We just want a new four-letter word to come out of Clare County,” Jensen said. “And that’s LOVE.
Jensen is emphatic about the outpouring of books is a creation of the students.
“I think this is kid generated, and I think it speaks to this generation of kids and the hope I have for the future because of it,” Jensen said. “Good things happen in Clare County, and people need to know about it.”
She also said that if people want to donate more books of “LOVE”, her class will certainly find loving homes for them
To participate in this literary phenomenon, just drop off a copy of the “LOVE” book by Matt de la Pena at Hillside, or mail to: Hillside Elementary School, ATTN: Heather Jensen, 201 N. Fourth St in Harrison, MI 48625.