The story I’m about to share with you is true. It’s also a perfect illustration of why I cherish what I do.
It was late January and still quite chilly when I arrived at South Elementary School in Mooresville, North Carolina. There I was enthusiastically welcomed by students and teachers alike thanks to Cheryl McCrorey, who’d done a great job preparing everyone for my arrival.
I was scheduled to spend two days at the school, and my itinerary was quite full. It included two assemblies, a book signing, an interview with a local news station, and visits with each grade. As a result, I was a bit blurry-eyed when an excited little third grader came running up to me at the end of the first day.
“Miss Jena, Miss Jena!” she said, throwing her arms around me. “I absolutely ADORE your books. I’m going to be a writer just like you!”
“That’s great,” I said, hugging her back. “I can hardly wait to read your first book.”
“Oh, you’ll probably be dead by then,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Katelyn!” her teacher gasped. “You shouldn’t say things like that!”
“Why not?” Katelyn asked. “It’s true.”
“I’m so sorry,” the teacher said, turning bright red.
“That’s okay,” I said. “She’s just being honest. I’ll tell you what Katelyn. I’ll do my best to stay alive if you’ll promise to write fast.”
“Okay,” she said. “See you!”
The rest of my day was consumed by a book signing and reception, plus dinner with some of the teachers at a local Italian restaurant. Over a plate of fried calmari I shared my encounter with Katelyn. Everyone laughed but no one seemed surprised. “That sounds like Katelyn,” said one teacher. “She’s beyond precocious.”
Precocious, I wondered, or simply astute? Although her statement shocked me a bit, it also reminded me why I like working with kids so much. Kids are honest, observant, and creative. I fell asleep with a smile on my face thinking of Katelyn. I hoped that I’d live long enough to see her first literary masterpiece.
As it turned out, I didn’t have long to wait at all. The very next morning Katelyn met me at the front door of the school with an illustrated manuscript in hand. Entitled, “the mistify girls; wher is poinsetta?” it told the story of a bird named Poinsetta who is snatched from her golden cage by a “stinkey crook” and rescued by a dog named Max.
Needless to say I was both surprised and delighted. I thanked her for the amazing story and told her I would cherish it forever. “Oh, you can’t keep it,” Katelyn said. “I’m going to use it to teach the kids in my class to be nice to animals.”
“Why don’t I make a copy for Miss Jena?” Katelyn’s teacher suggested, rescuing us both from an awkward moment.
“That’s a great idea,” I said, handing the manuscript over.
Today, as I sit at my desk rereading “the mistify girls,” I am tickled again by Katelyn’s story. But here’s the thing. I bet not one of you is surprised. I bet each and every one of you has similar tales to tell. Those kids and their stories are why we get up in the morning and why what we do matters SO much. Each and every day we are entrusted with our children’s dreams and tasked with helping shape and grow them. Our future quite literally depends on helping our kids grown into kind, creative, caring adults who believe in themselves and one another. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing, how bout you?
Copyright 2017 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.