This Fall, I find myself purposefully drifting back toward my roots and remembering the first stirrings of my desire to be a librarian: my love of stories and storytelling. It has always been my belief and conviction that stories are medicine for the soul, healing and propelling one toward authenticity and growth. The shadows Frederick Backman describes in “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” that might lead to the loss of imagination in our lives and the lives of our students are all too real to me in the form of distractions ranging from social media and advertising to overscheduled school and work lives. The young girl I once was, who escaped the shadows through immersion in a magical world of books, recognizes all the more as an adult how powerful stories are in shaping our inner and outer landscapes. We do well to cultivate focus, curiosity, empathy and vision in the lives of our students and in our own lives through devoting time toward listening and telling stories.
I come from a long line of worriers, some of whom were also, ironically, adventurers at heart. To borrow that overused Nike saying, “just do it,” well, we just did it, from jumping out of airplanes and trekking the Himalayas to starting life over in new countries, but we also worried that a) the parachute would not open, b) frostbite would set in, or c) we’d get sent back on the boat, lost at sea, or worst yet, captured by undesirables of one sort or another.
Perhaps, that’s why Bilbo Baggins as portrayed in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is still so close to my heart as a hero on a quest, so many years after my first childhood reading of the story. He grows in bravery but is oftentimes uncertain, lacking confidence in his own abilities and continuously homesick for his beloved “shire” and the comforts of home. I can’t help but also love that he is short, on the soft and fluffy side physically, yet proves himself more than capable to face the hardships of the journey, escaping his enemies and returning home as his authentic self.
This school year, I hope to offer students reading choices and other creative opportunities that spark their imaginations about who they are and what they are capable of creating and contributing on their own hero’s and heroine’s journeys. From poetry reading events to self-esteem workshops and makerspace offerings, I hope to do my small part in opening doors for them. One of my former professors once commented on one of my grad school papers, “You hide your light under a quiet bushel.” But as all true storytellers know, the stories themselves provide the light and we are just the humble messengers delivering the medicine leading toward authenticity and imaginative living.
“The shadows were dragons in the beginning, but they had an evil and a darkness of such strength within themselves that it made them into something else. Something much more dangerous. They hate people and their stories; they have hated for so long and with such intensity that in the end the darkness enveloped their whole bodies until their shapes were no longer discernible. That is also why they are so difficult to defeat, because they can disappear into walls or into the ground or float up. They’re ferocious and bloodthirsty, and if you’re bitten by one you don’t just die; a far more serious and terrible fate lies in store: you lose your imagination. It just runs out of your wound and leaves you gray and empty. You wither away year by year until your body is just a shell. Until no one remembers any fairy tales anymore… One day the shadows will come back, and maybe that is why Granny tells her all the stories now, thinks Elsa. To prepare her.” Frederick Backman, from “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry”
Author: Cathy Collins
Ms. Collins has worked as a Media Specialist/Librarian for 14 years. She is currently a library media specialist at Sharon High School, where she has worked for the past four years. She began her career as a reporter who covered business, arts and education-related issues. While interviewing the headmaster at a private school, she realized that she wanted to combine her love of research and writing with a career in education. At that point, she returned to school for a Masters in Library Science and further graduate studies in educational leadership. Ms. Collins has published her writing in various journals including “Library Media Connection,” “NEA Today,” education-related blogs and websites including AASL’s “Knowledge Quest.” She is a 2012 Reynolds High School Journalism Institute Fellow and project consultant for the E-Book, “Searchlights and Sunglasses: Journalism in the Digital Age.” She received a “Teachers for Global Classrooms” fellowship from the U.S. State Dept. in 2014 and is the recipient of AASL’s Intellectual Freedom Award (2014) as well as a “Super Librarian” award bestowed by MSLA (Massachusetts School Library Association). She is a Massachusetts Library System Executive Board Member and has served on the MassCUE Board as PD Chair since 2013 along with the NEISTE Board. She earned National Board Certification as a Library/Media Teacher in 2009. In her spare time, she enjoys nature walks, reading, travel and yoga.