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 by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Brendan Wenzel
Beach Lane Books, 2017
Four years ago, I shared my vision for a new era of communication, collaboration, and celebration in the nation’s largest public school system. I let you know that reforms were coming, and I promised to be honest with you about what we were doing and why. Likewise, I encouraged you all, educators, families, and community partners alike, to be honest with me and to join me in channeling our energy into our classrooms so that all of our children could become productive, thinking members of society.
As educators, none of us enters this profession for fame or glory. The glory, when it does come, is often emotional and private: the joy of a student who suddenly grasps a tough concept, the smile on the face of a proud parent, the satisfaction of a teacher who is mastering their craft. Educators thrive on these moments, as we learn to recognize them for the gifts that they truly are.
This month’s book, Life, by Cynthia Rylant, celebrates the small wonders that form the fabric of all our lives. As Rylant writes, “Life begins small. Even for the elephants. Then it grows.” As elephants, rhinos, snakes, and camels mature, Rylant explains, they find things to love in their unique corners of the world. Camels, for instance, covet the sand, while snakes adore slithering in grass.
Likewise, in the world of education, each of us have our own small wonders to celebrate. Principals feel deep satisfaction when they know they have helped their school communities improve. Parents feel pride when they see their children achieve in school. And students feel a sense of accomplishment when they perform well inside and outside of the classroom.
Just as there is always something to love in our lives, the book also points out that there is “something to protect.” As educators, we work to protect our students’ social and emotional wellbeing, as it is critical for us to foster safe and supportive environments that prepare our students for the challenges of adulthood. We also seek to protect early childhood education and literacy, because these are the foundations for all future learning. Then there are our students’ dreams of college and careers, which we must do everything in our power to help foster and preserve.
I love the book, Life, because the title’s captivating illustrations and simple, powerful prose reveal what animals instinctively know: “that everything is changing.” Birds migrate south for the winter. The wolves and wild geese venture forth, and later find their way back home. Nothing remains the same. Similarly, our students and schools will continue to change and grow. Others will build on our collective accomplishments, and some may even choose to take a different road— and that is okay, too.
I know that change can be disorienting, but as Rylant writes, “it is worth waking up in the morning to see what might happen.” Be ready for surprises, and remember that life goes on. Beautiful things will come your way—personally and professionally. I encourage you all to cherish each other, including teachers, students and their families, and other school staff members, as well as your own family members and friends.
Take a page out of Life, and welcome your next journey, as I will mine. As things start to change, know that I could not be more proud of the transformative work we have accomplished together.
“Because life begins small. And grows.”