Some people name their cars. I name my suitcases. My big suitcase is affectionately known as The Pet because my husband claims I drag it around like it’s on a leash. My new carry-on—purchased in a futile effort to pack less—is named Little Red. Here she is:
Little Red, along with The Pet, accompanied me to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Conference on English Leadership (CEL), and Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) annual conferences in Boston last week. She was almost empty when I arrived in Boston, but Little Red was crammed full of books when I left.
The first time I attended the NCTE conference (New York, 2007), a friend told me that I needed to leave room in my suitcase, so that I could bring a “few” books home. In my mind, a few meant five or six books–no problem. I was ill-prepared for the piles of low-cost and free books offered by generous exhibitors. I wound up purchasing a cheap duffle bag in Times Square, so that I could lug books home.
(I also stood in line with TWO people, so that Suzanne Collins could sign and stamp a copy of her newly-released book, The Hunger Games, but that’s another story.)
I learned my lesson. While I don’t feel the need to grab mountains of books in the exhibit hall, I manage to acquire a “few” during the conference every year.
Explaining to my students why I would miss three days of school right before Thanksgiving, they were curious, “Will you meet any famous authors while you are there, Mrs. Miller?”
“If you see Rick Riordan, will you ask him to sign a book for us?”
“Are you going to see where the Boston Tea Party was?” (I teach American History, too, so this isn’t as random as it seems.)
“Is Tom Angleberger going to be there?”
Trying to answer their questions as best I could, I told my class, “I am not sure who is going to be there, but I imagine I will have some new books to share when I get back.”
I had spoken the magic words: new books.
I wish every children’s author could have heard my class in that moment.
I wish every naysayer who says kids don’t read could have heard the children cheer when I told them we would have more books to read and share.
Mason asked, “How many books do you think it will be? How will you carry them?”
“I guess I will put them in my suitcase, Mason,” I assured him.
Mason grinned, “You should bring your suitcase to class and we can help you unpack it!”
This morning, I loaded up Little Red with books I picked up during my trip, as well as some books I found for the children during the break. Wheeling my suitcase across the school parking lot, no one gave me a second look. I guess teachers bring all sorts of weird props to school.
Parking Little Red by my desk, I greeted my students as the came to class. It didn’t take long for them to notice a bright red suitcase.
Kenzie shook her head, “You really did it. You brought us a suitcase full of books, didn’t you?”
I whispered to her, ” I found a copy of Who Is Michelle Obama? in a bookshop. I know you’ve been waiting for it. Let’s get it out.”
Kenzie beamed and fought off classmates eager to see inside Little Red.
Looking for an orderly, but fun way for my students to investigate the books, we conducted a musical chairs-style book party. It’s a lot like my friend, Colby’s speed dating with books idea or Janet Allen’s Book Pass. Students carried their to-read lists and a pencil. I placed one book on every desk. We sang holiday songs and jingles at the top of our lungs while moving around the room.
When I rang my desk chime, students stopped at the nearest desk. Students examined the book at their desk for two minutes and recorded the title and author of any book that interested them. After two minutes, we repeated the process–moving around the room and looking at books. We had a blast. Everyone added books to their lists and all of our new books were previewed.
As my students filed out at the end of class, several patted Little Red and complimented her, “Thank you, Little Red, for the great books!”
The symbolism of a bright red bag full of gifts for children was not lost on me in that moment.
Thank you, Little Red. Every time I pack you, I will remember this day and smile. You helped me show my students one more time that reading is worth celebrating.