I love December 10th. On that day in 1948, many nations came together to sign The United Nations Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. It is an annual reminder of the acknowledgement that human rights exist, despite what we read in the newspaper, see in the media, and witness all too often in daily interactions. It is also another reminder to have the conversation with our schools about human rights.
The quality of the conversation ranges from surface to particularly moving depending on the year, the person negotiating it and the students. This year has been magic. One of the teachers was reading Hannah’s Suitcase by Karen Levine, about the Holocaust with her 6th Grade students. I was reading Playing War by Kathy Beckwith , to explore why war isn’t a fun game for students coming from war torn countries with 3rd grade students. With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children, the conversation morphed into a project to welcome Syrian refugees.
I went down to the storage locker to pull out my Christmas decorations and an old suitcase that Ms. Collins and her 6th graders could use to decorate with images and hold all our messages to welcome the Syrian refugees coming to Canada. The suitcase holding some of my most precious and breakable Christmas decorations caused me to pause. My paternal grandmother had gotten the suitcase on a trip to Russia. She used it to take flight several times with her four young children away from the front line of war in Germany during WWII. Her brother sponsored her and her two sisters and all of their children to come to Canada in 1947. Margriet’s suitcase took her on to the Voldendam to travel to Canada and start a new life.
I am an administrator in a school where many families have made sacrifices to come to Canada with the promise of starting a better life. At the Winter Potluck dinner, messages of support and advice were written to the Syrian refugees coming to Canada. Ms. Collin’s Grade 6 students have been at a booth to tell people about the Syrian refugees and encourage them to write messages to add to the others in the suitcase. Mable Elmore, our MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, has come to talk to students about her job and work with refugees. Yesterday Ms. Collins, on the busiest shopping day of the year, with her daughter in tow, arrived at a community forum to discuss how to support the Syrian refugees that may be arriving in our area. The conversation deepens, the project expands and the possibility for learning and caring expands exponentially.
Vancouver Kidsbooks is the quintessential Children’s bookstore. Phyllis Simon opened her first Kidsbooks in Kitsilano in 1983. Since then stores have followed in North Vancouver and Surrey. The constant has been knowledgeable and friendly staff who exude enthusiasm for matching books with kids. I became an International Reading Association member (now International Literacy Association) as a first year teacher. My administrator, Jack Corbett, at Dormick Park invited me on the staff trek to Schou Centre in Burnaby for a LOMCIRA session (local council of IRA). He promised it would be fun and we’d all learn something along the way. I learned early on that Phyllis Simon was the person we depended on to provide a wide array of high quality books to bring reading and writing to life for our students. She generated a lot of excitement at events where she set up a table.
When my kids were young, we would make the trek from the suburbs to line up for author events sponsored by Kidsbooks in the old Hollywood Theatre, book signings in the Kits store and to spend the day shopping for the very best read. Fiscal restraint never included Kidsbooks because the store and staff were able to inspire such enthusiasm for the possibilities. It was a favourite place to pick out birthday and Christmas gifts. Phyllis Simon’s support for parents and educators has not waned over the years.
Each year, Elementary Administrators in public schools in Vancouver, host an event featuring a great recent publication of a picturebook. The author and/or illustrator is invited to talk about the writing process to student representatives, librarians and an administrator from every school in the Vancouver School Board. Each student goes back to school with a special addition for their school library and the author’s voice in their head. This year, Phyllis Simon, continued as she has every year to select some of the finest new publications in British Columbia for our consideration. Choosing one is always hard. This year I have decided that I’m going to review these books for Inquire2Inspire because I can see a place for each and every one of her choices in my work and play with children. You just might too.
If you are from out of town, be sure to include one of the Kidsbooks stores in your travels. If you are an International Literacy Member, an educator, a parent or a lover of children’s literature, you will not be disappointed. Even if you don’t run into Phyllis, there will be a knowledgeable staff member to open some possibilities for your consideration. I promise!