January 30

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Who Tells Your Story? by Valinda Kimmel

Like so many others, I’ve fallen in love with Hamilton, the brilliant musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not a silly school-girl crush, but an all-consuming passionate affair. I sing the lyrics in my head all day long. I’ve even blurted them aloud on occasion at terribly inappropriate times.

I am besotted. Some people in my life think it’s pathetic. Well, those people are wrong.

Recently on my morning commute, I heard the final song on the album for the umpteenth time. It had a profound, new meaning that day.

I started thinking about myself and how well I was doing at telling the story. The story.

Let me tell you what I wish I’d known                                                                                                                                  

When I was young and dreamed of glory                                                                                                                                                                                               

You have no control:                                                                                                                                                              

Who lives                                                                                                                                                                        

Who dies                                                                                                                                                                                          

Who tells your story?

As much as I love these lyrics, I disagree. I think we do have control to some degree over who tells our story. I think we decide every day about the telling of our story. Years ago, Stephen Covey, encouraged readers to think about what they wanted others to say about them after their death. What would people say? What would be their legacy?

Well, I know. And I’ve known for quite some time.

I want to be known for loving books and giving away books and reading books and book-talking books. Writing about books and re-reading books and all the things that ever there were about books—that is what I desperately desire to be the defining message of my life.

On that commute, I also thought about my responsibility to tell not just my own story, but stories.

As an educator, I must read books so I can talk to kids about books. And I must talk to teachers so they too will talk to their kids about books.

I am duty-bound to tell about Ada in The War That Saved My Life and about Peter, Pax and Vola in Sara Pennypacker’s tale, Pax. The story of brave, heroic black sailors in The Port Chicago 50 begs to be told and Enrique’s Journey has to be shared because his story of leaving Honduras as a boy to find his mother in America is powerful and worthy of retelling. There are so many stories for me to tell.

Who tells your story?

I do. I will.

But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?                                                                                                             

Who keeps your flame?

In the telling of the story, I am compelled to do more. I must listen to what kids are saying about their lives and what’s important to them. Then I am obliged to find books that I can share and recommend and give away. It’s critical that I listen to the community and the world around me. What am I hearing? What’s important? What requires healing? Then I find books to speak to those issues and cure those ills. Book talks that capture the attention and the hearts of kids is both a privilege and a passion.

Long after I’m gone, my name won’t be remembered, but the lessons and heart connections I helped to forge between kids and books will remain. They’ll be the ones, the kids, to kindle the flame.

And I’m still not through                                                                                                                                                             

I ask myself, “What would you do if you had more—“                                                                                                                        

Time

Not everyone has the same intense love affair with books as the band of bibliophiles here at Nerdy Book Club. I get it.

But…if I had more time, I’d do everything in my power to transfer that love of books and the gift of time to every teacher so that they in turn would pour out the book love to each child in their care.

When I was in fourth grade, I had a teacher who read to me. She read to the whole class, but I felt on so many days that she was reading only to me. Martha McKee was tall, beautiful and graceful. She was strong and assertive. I liked that about her. I vowed to myself that I would be that self-assured someday. And then she did the unimaginable. She cried through an entire chapter of a novel she was reading aloud. Something stirred in me that day. I saw the beauty of strength and compassion working their magic. I wanted to make that happen for others as she’d done for me. The title of the book Mrs. McKee read on that day has long since faded from my memory. The love of books and how they can move the reader has never been forgotten.

 

Oh. Can I show you what I’m proudest of?

I’ve not built an orphanage like Eliza Hamilton, as portrayed in the musical (it is still in operation in New York today, BTW). There will be no monuments built in my honor. But can I tell you what I am so very proud to share with you?

My own two adult children are voracious readers. My grandchildren all love to read. I read to them a lot. I purchase loads of books (sometimes my husband lovingly chides me for spending too much on books). I no longer have my own classroom, but on the K-6 campus where I coach, I have 750 + kids that I can talk to about books.

And I do plenty of talking about books.

I’m proud of those conversations I have with kids who stop me in the hall or whisper to me when I visit their classes. Luis told me how excited he was that he’d found book six in the Amulet series. Addy shared that she was about to finish Charlotte’s Web. Kindergarten students stopped in the hallway outside my office door one day and pointed to the paper images of picture books posted on my door that I’m “advertising”.

No physical monuments, but I pray that I’m leaving a legacy of the heart lessons that books hold.

And when my time is up                                                                                                                                                          

Have I done enough?                                                                                                                                                                            

Will they tell my story?

Every day I worry if I’m doing enough. Once again, I’m wise enough at my age to know that my name will not be remembered, but I believe the more books I read to kids and share with teachers, the more likely it will be that the story will be told.

I don’t care that my story is told. But, by golly, I long for students I’ve known through the years to read and to tell the stories. Again.

And again.

And again.

 

Valinda Kimmel has flipped through lots of calendar pages since beginning a career as a teacher nearly three decades ago. She currently works as a K-6 instructional coach on an elementary campus in Texas. After hours, Valinda loves lazy evenings and long conversations with her husband Mark, and spending time with her adult children, their spouses, and five of the most brilliant “littles” in her world. She hopes that you’ll engage in spirited conversations with her on Twitter (@vrkimmel) and on her blog at valindakimmel.com