Each month, the Chancellor selects a children’s book that she feels is inspirational and informative for the students, parents, and staff members who make up the City’s public schools. For past book selections, review the “Book of the Month” category right here on The Morning Bell.
Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017
Remembering Vera is a heartwarming story about a real-life dog who lived at the U.S. Coast Guard base near San Francisco in the 1960s. Found hiding on the docks, Vera became the beloved mascot of the barracks. Not only did the intrepid pooch stand watch and do drills with the men, she joined them when they went out onto the bay in their buoy tenders. Polacco met Vera in 1962 while touring the base and was deeply moved by tales of the dogs’ devotion and heroism.
The author recounts a blustery day when a distress call came: a sailboat had crashed on the rocks and the rough seas made it impossible for the Coast Guard cutter to get close enough to make a rescue. As if on cue, Vera appeared in front of the commander, who was not happy to see a dog onboard. A serviceman thought quickly. Vera, he declared, would swim the lifeline out to the sailboat. Wouldn’t you know? The dog saved the day and won the commander’s heart. From then on, Vera slept on a pillow on the commander’s desk and joined him on family vacations.
Vera went on many dangerous missions, won a medal for valor, and became an honorary member of the U.S. Coast Guard. Even after she retired, she continued to live on the base with the men with whom she had served so valiantly.
In this touching book, Polacco celebrates loyalty and the unbreakable bond between a dog and her human companions. The themes of connection and unconditional love are especially relevant during the holiday season, when we spend precious time with family and friends, honor our traditions, and ponder what we value most in life. In the end, it is our relationships, not our material possessions, which fill our hearts and nurture our souls.
Reading this story also brought to mind the DOE’s Comfort Dog program and the special connection our students and staff have with Petey, Bruno, Jasper, and the other canines working in our schools. These dogs are making a real difference in our students’ lives. For instance, I observed a Comfort Dog calm a student with autism. Another
Comfort Dog motivated a chronically absent high school student to achieve perfect attendance, a requirement for being a dog monitor. I can personally testify that these dogs have comforted many an adult in our schools as well, including yours truly.
I encourage educators and parents to read this book to students during the holiday season. Use it as a jumping off point to discuss what is valuable and worth remembering in our lives. Ask students to think about a person or companion animal that has made a deep impression on them.
Polacco herself has a very precious memory about Vera. The author happened to be working at the Oakland SPCA when a Coast Guardsman came in with the now old and ailing dog. Holding Vera as she drifted into her “well-earned rest,” Polacco was “struck by the thought that somehow my life was meant to intersect with Vera’s.”
I, too, believe that people and canines come into our lives for a reason. Let us all celebrate the relationships that give our lives meaning.