Nan Forler: Recently, I had the unique pleasure of doing a reading of Bird Child in my hometown of Elmira, with the students of the elementary school I attended so many years ago. Bette Cummings, the Children’s Librarian at the Elmira Library has passed on her love of books to hundreds of children over the years. I used to drive my own children up to Elmira for storytime with “Miss Bette,” as they lovingly referred to her, to enjoy her patient and gentle manner. Bette has followed the path of Bird Child and was eager to have me come in for a reading.
Bette had everyone and everything well-prepared for the reading. The display case at the entrance was decked out with a Bird Child scene, complete with snowy roads, tiny houses, a school bus, and a raven perched on a fence.
The children not only had uniquely hometown comments such as, “I know your sister,” and “Do you know my parents?” but also insightful thoughts on how to be a bystander who challenges the power of a bully. Rather than ideas for taking revenge, responses such as “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” showed a deep understanding of how to take an active and positive role as a bystander.
The children were amazingly attentive and demonstrated a strong sense of empathy in our role-playing. Empathy, along with the ability to respond with courage and compassion, are learned behaviours that I hope we can all pass on to the children in our lives.
At the end of the reading, Bette presented me with a beautiful, festive wreath she had created, decorated with items from the story of Bird Child, including a school bus, fence, paintbrush, and music, and invited us to a reception of Christmas cookies and juice. I left feeling that we all need more “Miss Bettes” in this world.
Read Nan Forler’s previous guest post about her first bookstore reading!