Ashes or Sayso?
In my fourteen years of experience as an elementary school media specialist, I continually maintain that I learn something from the students every day. One day recently, a student taught me something that will be unforgettable for me and those that I have shared it with. I am eager to share the experience with my librarian colleagues so that it may open their minds as it did mine. It’s moments like the one that I am sharing that remind me how important our jobs are and how we make connections with students that may not happen in the classroom.
For the past seven years I have served as the coach for our school’s Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl team. The Helen Ruffin Bowl is a competition among school teams held once each year. Each team reads the Georgia Children Book Award nominees for that year and that is the basis of the six-round competition. Each round consists of comprehension questions from the books. To prepare my team for the competition, I have what I call “Lunch and Listen”. The team members eat lunch daily in the library while I read one of the nominees aloud to them. After each chapter they make up comprehension questions that I record and save for future practice. The students also read nominees on their own time and write down comprehension questions to share with the group. This year, my team consists of six fifth graders and four fourth graders.
A few weeks ago, one of the fourth grade students began telling me she wanted to start reading “Sayso” as soon as she completed the book she was reading. This particular student is usually the last to leave Lunch and Listen because her class is the last fourth grade class dismissed from the cafeteria. This gives the two of us extra time to talk about books and share in conversation. She mentioned the “Sayso” book several times and I was not sure which book she meant but figured it was something she was reading on her own. One day she asked if she could go ahead and check out “Sayso”. I then had to really grasp what she was talking about. I said, “Sayso is not a Georgia Book Award Nominee.” She said, “Yes it is. It’s in your office on the shelf where they are kept. I said “show me”. We proceeded to my office where she picked up the book “Ashes” by Kathryn Lasky.
At that moment I literally had chills. I was astonished and amazed that this student had seen a totally different image of the book than I had. I was speechless. In a few seconds I said “Wow! The title of this book is Ashes (Lasky, 2011) but I had no idea that it could be read as Sayso. I wondered if Kathryn Lasky knew of this and if it was intentional or not.” Questions just ran through my mind. I wondered if this dual title had something secretly to do with the novel that would be revealed when we read it. I just praised her for being so persistent about the book and how I could not wait to share her revelation with the rest of the group. The next day I shared the story with my Lunch and Listen group and they too were speechless. We talked about it and I suggested we write an email to Kathryn Lasky to find out if the duo title was intentional or not. We were just finishing one book and unanimously we all agreed that we MUST read Ashes next.
As soon as the kids left, I wrote Kathryn Lasky and email and attached the pictures to it. The next day I read the email to my Lunch and Listen group and they were so excited that maybe we would hear from the author. We started the book and the coined phrase became, “Are we going to read Ashes or Sayso?”
To our surprise and excitement, Kathryn Lasky replied to my email in two days time. She, like me, was equally shocked and she used the word “speechless” to describe her feelings. She explained that there was no intention in the title to be read as “Sayso” and this news was completely new for her. She also shared my feelings that we learn something from the students every day. She hoped it would not “diminish” our desire to read the book. Quite the contrary! After sharing her email with the group, we were all even more eager to read it.
As I write this we are about halfway through Ashes (or “Sayso” ) and we love the rich work of Kathryn Lasky. Not a day goes by when I am not rewarded by working with young people. They are uninhibited in thought and unlimited in vision. I have shared this story with anyone that I think it would delight. I shared it on my morning news broadcast at school and received so many comments from teachers. I wanted to share it with my librarian colleagues so that you can share it with your readers. I think it will “hook” the kids into wanting to read Ashes…or Sayso.