Veterans Day in the Library

I was at the elementary school today, and there was a ceremony honoring veterans.  To see the elderly men so handsome in their uniforms immediately brought to mind two of my favorite books.  When the fifth graders – whittled down to half the class; this was one of the classes who had presented the ceremony so lots of parents took children home early – came for library class, I read these passages, with a little introduction, out loud.  Maybe you’ll recognize the books:


They shot some more. Then the head Legionnaire threw up his arm.  ‘Troopers, hold your fire!  It’s pretty nearly eleven o’clock.’

Silence fell.  Some in the crowd took out their watches to make sure.  It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the moment when the armistice of the Great War had been signed in 1918.  We all turned to face east as people did, toward France.

I turned to see a back view of Grandma.  Her left hand was outstretched, holding the paddle upright in the burgoo.  Her right hand must have been over her heart.  Her old hat was pulling low and pinned tight, and her hair was escaping.  I never saw her shoulders straighter.

I then told the students that when I saw the veterans, I imagine them as young men, like the man who narrates this passage:

The years went by, and Mary Alice and I grew up, slower than we wanted to, faster than we realized.  Another war came, World War II, and I wanted to get in it.  The war looked like my chance to realize my old dream of flying.  My soul began to swoop as it had all those years ago at the country fair when I’d had my first ride in Barnie Buchanan’s biplane.  I only hoped the war would last long enough to make a flier out of me, and so it did.

I joined up at Fort Sheridan for the Army Air Corps.  But before I could go to flight school, I had to do basic training down at Camp Leonard Wood.

On the night we were shipping out from Dearborn Station, it occurred to me that the troop train would pass through Grandma’s town, sometime in the night.  I sent her a telegram.  She never did have a phone.  A telegram might give her a turn, but I just wanted to tell her the train would be going through town, though it wouldn’t stop.

In the way of troop trains, we left an hour late and sat on the siding outside Joliet for another hour.  You don’t get any sleep on a troop train.  Our car was blue with smoke and noisy with a floating craps game.  I sat through the long night, propped at the window.

Then I knew we were getting to Grandma’s town.  It was sound asleep in the hour before dawn.  We slowed past the depot, and now we were coming to Grandma’s, the last house in town.  It was lit up like a jack-o’-lantern.  Every window upstairs and down blazed, though she always turned out the light when she left a room.  Now we were rolling past, and there was Grandma herself.

She stood at her door, large as life – larger, framed against the light from her front room.  Grandma was there, watching through the watches of the night for the train to pass through.  She couldn’t know what car I was in, but her hand was up, and she was waving – waving big at all the cars, hoping I’d see. 

And I waved back.  I waved long after the window filled with darkness and long distance.


Peck, R. (2000). A year down yonder. New York: Dial Books, p. 46.

Peck, R. (1998).  A long way from Chicago.  New York:  Dial Books, pp. 147-8.

Image credit:  Collier, J. (1875-1900?).  Trains.  Retrieved online from the Library of Congress.
It was my favorite library class all year.

Conference Wrap-up

I’ve had the good fortune to be able to go to two – count ’em, TWO – great conferences in the past two weeks.  I went to the Iowa Technology Education Connection (ITEC) conference, focusing on integrating technology into education, then I went to the American Association of School Librarian (AASL) conference, focusing on school librarianship.  The latter includes a lot of technology, too, of course.  It’s a bit overwhelming to consider all that I have to do, and easy to feel like I’m not getting anything done.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?

One of the fun things I was able to do was I tweeted my way through both conferences instead of taking handwritten notes.  I have a new phone, my first smart phone, and (as Hank Hill would say) I tell you what, it changes your life.  It’s definitely made me more productive in some ways, but definitely more distracted, too.

I tell you what!
So if you want to read my notes from the conferences, just check out my tweets here.  I think my biggest takeaway from ITEC is that we can’t definitively show improvements in student learning because of laptop computers.  That can’t be the reason why we do 1:1 in schools.  But especially upon hearing the impact in the Sioux City School District (from people who interviewed and didn’t hire me!), I know it does change lives for the better.  To me, it’s about bridging the digital divide.  I’m also excited about lots of new projects – GIS, digital storytelling, tools for blogging, and a lot more.  The big takeaway from all that is that no one person can master all the technology out there.  I’m excited, though, after the standardized tests in a couple of weeks, I want to start implementing “lunch ‘n learns” where people come eat lunch in the library and learn about some new technology.   I can’t wait to learn from the great teachers here at my school.


AASL was a great experience too.  I’d never been to a national conference and the number of vendors and sessions was a little overwhelming.  There was so much I’d love to see and couldn’t do.  I can access it through the AASL Ning, though, and hope to do that soon.  (There’s also the Library 2.0 conference going on now, so . . . )  I met some great librarians, from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Arkansas, Connecticut, and more.  I think the biggest takeaway I got there was that I’m in the coolest profession ever!  The coolest profession for me, anyway.  But I think it’s pivotal that we librarians spread our message, that libraries aren’t just about print books or the Dewey Decimal System.  We’re about sharing stories and writing and research and technology.  Lots and lots of technology.

This week, it’s book fair time, so that’s a whole ‘nother experience.  I’m learning with that too and can’t wait for the next book fair because I’ll know exactly what to do!