I’ve been finishing writing a book while here in Paris on my sabbatical.
It’s a book about what we’ve learned at Reading In Motion over the past 33
years of working in schools. Humans like stories better than lectures, I am
told, so I am writing this book as a story, a novel, rather than a
non-fiction, how-to book. I already have a publisher who has agreed to
publish it, so I better get it done!
But I need your help! I’ve done plenty of writing in the past, but never a
novel. And this is not just my story to tell – many others of you have been
part of it, as well, and know parts of it even better than I do. So, I’m
asking you to read parts now, in this blog, and give me feedback. Most of
the parts I’ll be sharing this way will be “technical” chapters, full of
details around some of my core ideas. I’ll need you to read them and tell
me whether they are clear and make sense. For those of you who read the
wonderful best selling book “The Martian” (now a movie starring Matt Damon,
too), you might recall that book started as a blog, wherein the author (a
first-time author, I believe) worked out each of the technical challenges
of a fictional astronaut who gets accidentally left behind on Mars and must
figure out how to survive with only the equipment and tools he has
available. Readers of that blog gave the author lots of feedback, which
helped him correct and improve what he’d written. That’s my same idea here,
if I may be so immodest as to put my endeavor in the same category as that
best-selling, now-a-movie, success!
The first thing I’ll share today is from the first chapter, just to set the
scene a little. I’ll post another chapter that’s more-technical soon.
Thanks for your help, and happy reading!
*How it all starts*
Three guys in matching baby blue Pelle Pelle jackets are taking the engine
out of a late model sedan in the school parking lot. They’ve got a big
hoist with chains going down into the open compartment under the lifted car
hood. These three characters are hunched over the vehicle, one with a
“Those baby blue jackets are gonna get dirty,” I say to myself. It’s 8:55
in the morning and I’m late. I already missed the 8:30 meet up. Still, I’d
better drive around the block and park on the street – if I want to ever
see my car engine again!
Is this the wrong building? It looks abandoned. I got the call late
yesterday and maybe I wrote down the address wrong. This school is only a
half mile from the fixer-upper house my wife and I just bought in a
“changing” neighborhood. I didn’t figure it would take so long to get over
here, but I guess I cut it a little tight. Trucks unloading their wares
into mom-and-pop storefronts on Central Street didn’t help.
Drive around the block again. Get out and try the building door – locked.
Try another door further down the building – locked.
My phone is buzzing in my pocket. “Patrick!” It’s my wife. “I just found
out from our new neighbor that the school you said you’d be at today is
where our son will go.” She sounds upset.
“That’s interesting, dear. I’m in front of the school right now, trying to
find a door that’s not locked tight. Let me call you later.”
“What I really called for is to tell you the morning paper is reporting on
page one that reading scores are down all across the schools. And there’s a
link to every school’s scores. Our computer’s not working at the moment or
I’d look up the scores for that school. But I called our neighbor and she
says that school is no good. Find out what’s going on over there.”
“This place looks dead as a doornail. I’m gonna try one more door and if
it’s not open I’m coming home.”
“It’s not closed yet, according to the neighbor,” she says. “That’s the
school where our son will go next year for Kindergarten. Why didn’t you
check this out before we bought this place?” She sounds like she might cry.
“OK, let me check it out now. Stay calm. I can’t imagine this is the school
for our block. It’s kinda scary over here.” I hang up. I shouldn’t have
said that last bit. What if this really is the school for our new
As I’m thinking about all of that, there’s a tap on the car window that
makes me jump in my seat. Turning, I see it’s Eric, leader of our merry
band of itinerant brass musicians. “You’re late. Get out of your car and
Eric is in shirt sleeves, shivering in the brisk late-Fall temps. I get
out, grab my trombone and music. I follow him to a door that opens. “Let’s
go, they are waiting for us in the gym,” says Eric as he pulls me inside
the building. Warmth. Sounds of children. We move up the ancient stairs.
Each step is smoothed from years of little and big shoes trudging up them,
and each stair has a noticeable dip in it from all that use, even though
they appear to be made of hard stone. I imagine a million individual
trudges, slowly but surely wearing those dips into the solid stone.
The sounds of children get louder, joined now by what I can only call
“school smells” – school pizza cooking, mixed with rubber cement and a lot
of other smells that can’t be pulled out of the mix. A wave of memories
launch in my head. Is it third grade again?
As we move down the huge hallway, lined with a 1930’s era trophy case and
dusty American and State flags, the sound of children, really small
children is getting louder. As we turn the corner, I see we have arrived at
the gym, filling up with children sitting on the floor and already
restless. A steady line of children are filing through a different door,
jostling each other, all energy and excitement and happiness.
“Eric, I need to tell you something” I say, now remembering my wife’s call.
“I just got a call from Grace.”
“Not now” says Eric, always the focused, one-thing-at-a-time kind of guy.
“We’ve got a concert to play.” And he sits down and picks up his trumpet
from its case. It looks like the last of the students have been seated,
also – a gym full now of tiny humans sitting on their butts on the floor,
and a few larger humans sitting at intervals near the children, but on
folding chairs. I throw off my overcoat, adjust my tie and pull my trombone
from its case. Cold metal mouthpiece touches warm lips. Brr. Time to play!