Making Connections Across Our Journeys

To live is to connect with others. Making connections across our journeys with one another provides us opportunities to teach and to learn, to inspire and to soar, to bless and to be blessed.

A couple weeks ago, I read Andy Andrews’ The Traveler’s Gift, recommended to me by Dana Lehman, children’s book author of the Walnut Grove Series. I met Dana through the Authors Specialists Knowledge (ASK) Program. She sent me a message in response to my blog post, Choosing to See Rejection as a Pass. Her choice to encourage another writer with her words and experiences helped me immensely.

The Traveler’s Gift is such a special book, and I highly recommend it for everyone, whether or not you identify as a writer. The genre of the book is a bit tricky; it’s a mixture of self-help, historical fiction, fantasy, and realistic fiction. This book connected to my heart in countless ways and it is one I will reread each year. I look forward to reading Andy Andrews’ other books.

There’s such power in connection. You never know how the connections you choose to make with others will change lives. Choose to connect with others. Choose to use your words to build others up. Choose to notice and to reach out. Such simple choices profoundly impact our world, casting positive ripples that span past our awareness.

Honoring a Vietnam War Veteran

One book I read every year with my children’s literature course is Eve Bunting’s The Wall. But I have never experienced the book the way I did last week during an Authors Specialist Knowledge (ASK) Program with Gordy Bourland who fulfilled a specialist role to answer fifth-grade students’ questions about his experiences in the Vietnam War.

The students read Eve Bunting’s picture book illustrated by Ronald Himler that details a young boy, with his father’s help, looking for his grandfather’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial located in Washington D.C. The students created a list of interview questions they asked Mr. Bourland during the ASK Program.

Mr. Bourland answered each question with such honesty and openness. His memories impacted all of us listening as he shared details of being drafted, joining the Army, training to become a soldier and eventually a sergeant, and fighting in the war. All of our emotions, Gordy’s included, bubbled to the surface.

Even though Mr. Bourland has been doing ASK Programs for the last two decades, this past week he was asked a new question: How did the GI Bill help you with your education? He stated, “I’ve never been asked that. That was one of the advantages that we got at the time. When I came out I not only finished my college but got my Master’s Degree with my GI bill.” He used those degrees to teach secondary science for 30 years where he impacted countless students. His life has been an inspiration for so many students like those who participated in last week’s ASK Program.

I feel blessed to have had this experience, and even more blessed to post this on Memorial Day, a day when we must remember those who have fought for our country. Humbly and too simply, I say thank you to those who have fought, are fighting, and will fight within our military’s armed forces. Today we celebrate, but every day we must remember those soldiers who make such sacrifices, especially those who lose their lives fighting wars.

Authors Specialists Knowledge Program

Have you ever wanted to interview a published children’s book author? Would you like to connect your own students to such interview experiences? Are you looking for ways to help your students connect with the content they read at deeper levels to acquire layers of meaning?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the ASK Program is for you. The Authors, Specialists, Knowledge (ASK) Program is conducted in schools nationwide. Using distance learning, children follow certain steps to interview an author or specialist after reading a fiction or nonfiction chapter or picture book. The ASK Program puts students in the driver’s seat, different from many author visits, as they lead the interaction with the author or specialist.

Dr. Ray Kettel created the ASK program at the University of Michigan – Dearborn in 1994 to empower children to not only enjoy reading a book but to also connect with the book’s author or an expert of the book’s content.

Two Way Interactive Connections in Education (nationally) and the Macomb Intermediate School District in Michigan (MISD) provide teachers myriad opportunities with ASK programs. TWICE requires members to pay a $40.00 fee or non-members to pay an $80.00 fee to help pay for the authors’ or specialists’ honoraria. MISD provides the programs for free to their teachers. Denise Jobe is a technician and coordinator of distance learning at the MISD; she also facilitates the connections with TWICE, nationally.

I have experienced many ASK Programs, including the programs I have had my preservice teachers complete in my children’s literature course. This past December, Parwin Anwar shared her experiences as an Afghan Refugee in response to Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner; this ASK Program is available through the MISD. I have also had former students share their experiences as children or parents involved in the foster care system after reading Patricia Reilly Giff’s Pictures of Hollis Woods. A couple years ago, Diane Bradley responded to students’ interview questions about her Wilder Series. Prior to that year, Matt Faulkner shared his experiences in writing Gaijin: American Prisoner of War.

The ASK Program creates so many connections between authors, specialists, students, and teachers.