It just had to happen at Garland R. Quarles Elementary School in Winchester, Virginia.
And it just had to be connected to Shenandoah University’s annual Children’s Literature Conference.
There’s no other way.
It is something that had the school’s principal Joanie Hovatter and reading specialist Heather Campbell (both Shenandoah alumnae) beaming with delight as they attended the 2017 Children’s Literature Conference.
It was the news that a previous conference presenter, children’s book author Aaron Reynolds, has dedicated his most recent book with Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Peter Brown (also a prior Children’s Literature Conference presenter), “Creepy Pair of Underwear,” to the Winchester elementary school.
Campbell ’93, ’03, always keeps an eye on the presenters’ slate for each conference, and when she saw Reynolds’ name appear for 2015, she knew he needed to be invited to Quarles, which boasts a “literary garden,” where children can go read amid flowers and other plants. She thought it would be wonderful to plant some carrots there, in keeping with Reynolds’ book, “Creepy Carrots,” and ask him to come speak to the children at a special summer event, at which every child received a copy of the picture book. He agreed to do so, and he didn’t charge the school a cent to appear after a day’s worth of presentations at the conference.
“He could not get enough of talking to the kids,” said Hovatter ’94, who is studying for her Doctor of Education degree at Shenandoah. He signed all the books, took a bite of a literacy garden-grown carrot, and listened to the children. One child said to him, “You really should write about creepy underpants,” Campbell said. “And, so, he did.”
Campbell found out about the book and its dedication this school year in an email from Reynolds, which arrived on a day she said she really needed some good news. She and Hovatter jumped for joy that day and soon went to the city schools’ superintendent to see if the school could play a part in launching the book. On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Reynolds will return to Quarles to celebrate the book the school inspired.
It’s not too surprising that Quarles is where all this happened. The school’s administrators and teachers are devoted to literacy, through both reading and writing. Campbell is a trained Shenandoah Valley Writing Project (SVWP) teacher-consultant who conducts weekly staff development and coaching about writing with Quarles teachers. The goal is for 80 percent of Quarles educators to have writing project training by 2019, Hovatter said. The SVWP is housed at Shenandoah’s School of Education and Human Development.
Quarles displays its devotion to literacy early, with teachers traveling to every incoming kindergarten student’s home before the school year starts to give the new, young student a book. Some arrive clutching that very same book on the first day of school, according to Hovatter and Campbell.
“Every day, our students are writing and reading,” Campbell said. The goal for teachers, in supporting this work, is “making meaning,” for students, Hovatter added.
Campbell had to learn how to be more comfortable with writing as a SVWP teacher-consultant, and she doesn’t have a problem admitting to her students that writing intimidated her a little at first. But now, she writes every school day and shares what she writes with her students. She reminds students that they can write about anything, and said there’s nothing more exciting than seeing a child arrive at school with a writing idea – and that child will always be allowed to write. “We make time for it,” she said.
There are kindergarteners at Quarles whose goal is to work together on a children’s book: one as the author, the other, as the illustrator. They plan to present one day at Shenandoah’s Children’s Literature Conference, too, Campbell said. By having a conference author return, after having written a book inspired by them, the kids can say to themselves, “‘Wow! Somebody listened to us!’” said Campbell, who is still reeling about how Reynolds took that idea, gleaned at Quarles, and went with it. “[It] gives me goosebumps to think about it.”