Category Archives: Op-Ed

A(nother) Love Letter to Libraries

I’ve long had a love affair with libraries. I grew up as a middle grade student wandering rows of dusty stacks and checking out piles of books. I did research in my high school and college libraries. I went to library school and  learned how to make my own library the center of our learning community. Now, I download new books from my local library. I go to write there, and dig into archives and bookstacks galore for nuggets and facts to add to my historical novels and articles.

Those are all great things and I’m so grateful for all of them. This is a different kind of love letter to libraries. I’m thinking of middle grade students today, getting ready to leave school for a long break, to spend their time sipping hot chocolate or sledding, or maybe reading all the books they got as gifts.

But what about those students whose families lack resources? What does their winter break look like? It’s cold here this week. We’ve been sick at our house. What if we had no way to deal with those issues? Worse still, what if one of your students doesn’t? I can’t get this thought out of my head. My imagination begins to run wild and I start to worry about kids like the ones in the first school where I taught, the kids who shared one coat between siblings through the winter. Who depended on a meal –  free or reduced lunch during the school year, or the sandwiches that were served in the cafeteria during the summer on the same day the book mobile came to school.

Libraries help – without regard to socio-economic status or religion or race or just about anything. Libraries help.

Here’s what my local libraries do about this problem that won’t leave my mind.

Some libraries provide cold weather shelter for homeless people. The Everett Public Library provides resources on its home page .

The Sno-Isle Regional Library system also posts resources on its site. In addition, every branch library’s home page lists the cold weather shelter in their neighborhood alongside the library contact information at the top of the page. Why is this important?

In our area, this past January’s One Night Count in Seattle showed that over 4500 people slept outside, and around 30 of those were children. Where I live and work, that is a whole classroom full of kids – or two. 

In my own county to the north, this was the most striking paragraph for me from the countywide Point in Time Survey:

“Precariously Housed Independent Children (17 & Under) Twenty-two children between the ages of 12 and 17 were found to be living on their own, in a precariously housed situation. The average age of this group was 16.3 years old. Three additional children were found living together as one household, one of them the dependent child of a teenage couple. This household stated they spent the previous night temporarily living with family or friends.”

Thinking about kids – the ones we teach and reach each week (or the ones we can’t) being outside in the cold makes me crazy. But there is hope:  alongside city and county agencies, libraries are joining the work and the conversation about homelessness. I will leave you with this document created by the American Library Association: Extending Our Reach: Reducing Homelessness Through Library Engagement 

What services does your library provide?

 

Memories-Part 1

When I realized my MUF post fell on Veterans Day, I immediately thought I’d create a short blurb about the history of the day and provide a related booklist. Then two things happened. The first thing was that I sifted through MUF’s old posts. Jennifer Swanson beat me to my Veterans Day idea by three years. The second thing that happened was I thought about my grandpa.

1943 US Marine-WWII VeteranMy Grandpa Jagger served in the United States Marines during WWII. He drove a tank and was injured on a battered and bloody beach during the invasion of Saipan in 1944, earning a Purple Heart. Over 60 years later, I sat beside his chair, rested my hand in his, and listened as he shared about his military service.

Up until that day, I hadn’t allowed myself to consider that my grandfather held memories I would lose when he was gone. The only memories that wouldn’t fade would be those held by others. In that moment, I realized I wanted more than my memories of him; I wanted his memories, too. But those memories would soon be grains of sand swept to sea by the tides of time.

Unless I allowed myself to slow down and engage. To listen. To be present.

So that’s what I did.

Today, Veterans Day is the tide that carries those memories back to me, and I find myself reflecting on how my need to engage in the present also applies to my efforts as a writer.

In my fiction, it’s easy to get caught up and swept away in the “reality” of my own creation. However, even a fictional world and characters and events must feel real. They must ring true. To achieve that, I can’t allow myself to get lost in my own mind and musings. I need to pull memories and details and emotions from the very real world around me. I must be a participant in the world and an observer. A giver of truths and a collector. A sharer of memories and a gatherer.

I must take the time to slow down and engage. To listen. To be present.

That’s what I learned from my grandpa.

I hope you come back on Monday to read Part 2 of this post—a booklist of middle-grade novels in which memories (shared, stored, hidden, and lost) play key roles. In the meantime, take this Veterans Day to remember and honor the millions of men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation. And take a moment for memories, too.

To share them.

To build them.

To be present.


T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original, free readers’ theater scripts for middle-grade teachers. He also has even more readers’ theater scripts available at Readers’ Theater Fast and Funny Fluency. For T. P.’s 10-lesson, video-based creative writing course, check him out on Curious.com.

Taking a kindness cue from kids

The election is finally over. Whether or not the candidate you supported came out victorious, I sincerely hope that we, as a nation, can move forward. Not only move forward, but heal.  Somehow become less divisive and more unified. And realize that our differences may not be as great as they seem.

This campaign was not only like no other in history, it also took a dramatic toll on many Americans’ mental health. In October, the American Psychological Association found in a survey that 52 percent of American adults found the election to be a “very” or “somewhat significant” source of stress. Adding to the stress, the survey found, was social media. Arguments, stories, video, comments, and images on social media that ranged from factual to hostile to inflammatory heightened people’s concerns and frustrations. A common theme emerged around the country — therapists reported that their patients felt more worried and less safe.

As a middle grade author, I couldn’t help thinking throughout the campaign: what about our kids? What are they hearing, seeing, and taking in? How is it affecting them? What are we showing them and teaching them, with our words and our behavior? What will they remember? And how will they act when they become adults…and voters?

I visit many schools and I honestly can’t think of one that didn’t have some type of kindness effort in place. Jars in classrooms to write a “put up” or “shout out” about a classmate. A wall of kids’ names who were observed doing random acts of kindness. A mural where kids wrote their wishes for a better world. Kindness Week. “It’s Cool to Be Kind.” The Great RAK Challenge. Kind words in chalk on a playground sidewalk or adorning posters in hallways. The message is clear in schools: Be kind, act kind, do kind things. This is the KIND of person you should be.

marian-hs-omaha-ne I even recently read about a girl who designed an app for use in a school cafeteria so everyone could find a seat at lunch and no one would have to sit alone.

Amazing, right?

When I observe these efforts at schools and see how they impact kids, I’m always blown away by the positive and hopeful messages. And I can’t help thinking that many adults need to take a cue from kids, and schools, for that matter.

michigan-girl-scouts-7-ypsilanti-eventSeems to me like there’s a really confusing dichotomy. Kids are taught to be kind and helpful and never to bully or tease. Then the exact opposite behavior is displayed by some (not all) people during the campaign — insults swapped back and forth, raging arguments on social media, fights during rallies. It got ugly. And sad. How could kids possibly make sense of this? They couldn’t. No one could.

That’s why I hope we can move forward from this moment and be better. Be kinder to each other. Listen more, talk less. Certainly argue less. Next time you’re in a school, read some of those kindness walls and posters. If our kids grow up with these messages ingrained in their heads, we’ll have nowhere to go but up.

And on a personal note, because I live in Chicago, I’ll add my tearful joy to the chorus of my city on the Cubs World Series win. They brought a ray of optimism to a year when many of us couldn’t find a lot to be joyful about. The grittiness and “never give up” attitude was a balm to heal our nation’s soul. Go Cubs!

gty-world-series-game7-end-25-jrl-161102_16x9_992Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days (Penguin Random House) and Calli Be Gold (Penguin Random House). She has a new middle grade novel coming fall 2017 from Aladdin Books. Connect with her online at micheleweberhurwitz.com.