Ed Spicer Has a Lot of Books
I just returned from a conference tour that took me to Hartford, Connecticut, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and then back east to Boston – 3,000 miles driven in 10 days. While in Michigan, I had the pleasure of spending two nights at the home of Ed Spicer and Ann Perrigo in the nearby town of Allegan.
Ann is the director of the town library, and Ed is well known in the world of children’s literature. He reviews for multiple publications and has been a member of prestigious award committees, including the Caldecott jury, which recognizes outstanding illustration in books for children. He teaches first grade for the Allegan Public Schools and runs a popular book club at the high school. His insightful author interviews are widely viewed online. Ed and Ann seem to know everyone in the industry—authors, editors, publicists, scholars, and other teachers and librarians.
Their lives revolve around books. Books are everywhere in the house. On the walls are beautiful illustrations from picture books, some of which are gifts from the artists and others, wins from auctions to benefit the American Library Association and other literary causes. A large bookcase on one wall of Ed’s office overlooking the Kalamazoo River holds each winner of the Newbery Medal since its establishment in 1922 to honor the best writing in children’s books. Another bookcase features the winners of the Printz Award, which recognizes outstanding books for teens. The winners of the Coretta Scott King Award, for outstanding writing and illustration by African-American book creators, occupy another bookcase. I also saw a collection of winners of the Pura Belpré Award, honoring Latino writers and illustrators. Some of these books are, of course, very old. All of them testify to the importance of the book and reading in an age of digital media.
Ed teaches first grade because he loves reading and the written word. While many children show up to first grade already knowing how to read, this is in many ways the most critical year for building the foundation of a reading life – and a writing life as well. Ed delighted in showing me his students’ writing, and he pointed out aspects of their compositions that were developmentally appropriate for their age and gender – things like phonetic spelling, the distance between letters and words, and the more advanced fine motor skills of girls as compared to boys. “You can look at the handwriting and pretty much tell who’s a girl and boy,” he said. He said he requires students to write in pen rather than pencil because he wants to see where they have corrected their mistakes or changed their minds by crossing things out.
Several times during my visit, Ed talked about a student whose words and actions reflected exposure to inappropriate media – specifically, R-rated movies and suggestive TV shows. Listening to Ed, I considered that while books may contain more mature content, there are mediating factors: the solitary and contained nature of the reading experience (not on a large color screen with sound blasting in the living room), the print size and challenge of decoding the words, the process of comprehending the meaning of words and sentences and of thinking about the story as a whole, the fact that we make our own pictures with the words rather than having them given to us. Even though picture books contain visual images, they reflect the imagination and interpretation of the artist, who creates complex layers of meaning that readers uncover each time they open the book. What you see is not what you get; there is always more to see.
Books belong to a different world than that of TV and video games, one that moves more slowly, that builds on our past experience and asks us to imagine and to dream. Visiting Ed and Ann in their small Michigan town, in their book-filled house overlooking the river, is to journey into that world.
Thanks, Lynn–it was a pleasure to meet you, and learn about your passions, too. Come visit again!
I certainly will! I had a wonderful time and learned a lot. Interestingly, my Portuguese professor doesn’t allow us to bring notes for our oral presentations because she also wants to hear where we’ve corrected mistakes. I think she gives more credit if we make a mistake and correct it than if we get it right the first time.
surrounded by books, my cousin Ann was always surrounded by books, I was amazed at how much she read & i have learned from her book lists. Not surprised that she and you are surrounded by books. Happy Thanksgiving!
Thank you for commenting, Valerie! I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving as well.
Lyn, if you think Ed and Ann have a lot of books in their home, you should see Ed’s classroom. It is overflowing with books and that’s after he makes his annual donations to the school library, the public library and to the students themselves. I had the pleasure of working in Ed’s classroom when I was doing my student teaching. I was highly impressed with the sheer number of books in his room! I was also kind of jealous. I didn’t learn to read until I taught myself the year I was entering 7th grade. From that summer on, I developed not only a love of, but a passion for books and reading. I read everything I can get my hands on and if I can’t get it on paper in ink, I get it on my kindle and I READ it. I don’t do books on tape nor do I allow my kindle to read to me. However as a special ed teacher, I have learned the value of a kindle in teaching moderately impaired students to read using them with the text to speech feature. I am getting my middle schoolers who can’t read above a pre-K level, to love chapter books on kindles. Ed’s influence on my teaching has shown in my desire to get my non-readers, reading anyway we can!
What an inspiring story, Deb, and what a life-changing experience it must have been to student teach in Ed’s class. I agree about the importance of getting non-readers to read any way we can. I’m on the Cybils graphic novel committee this year, and there are some wonderful titles that I think can draw kids in even if they’re non-readers or have difficulty reading.
Wow, so good to know there are people like this in the world!
Definitely, Sherrie! Thank you!
I should thank you here too! You took some very nice pictures of our house (wish I had moved the kleenex box). I’m glad you had a good time; we look forward to our next visit–in New York, in Allegan, or down the road somewhere! Thanks again!
I didn’t move the Kleenex box either. I need to start paying more attention to what’s in the background of my photos. In the background of one of my Lego town’s photos is my daughter’s doll cradle and baby doll, which ended up on a chair in my office as a result of Hurricane Irene.
I admire so much the work that Ed and Ann are doing–and I’m envious of your time with them. Yes, books are very different from other media. The imagination of the reader works in a completely different way than visuals and music drama conceived by others. I am constantly surprised by the mature material young children are exposed to. It’s so wonderful what Ed and Ann are doing to breed passion for reading. Hats off to them!
Thank you, Sandra! I hope you get a chance to meet them in person one day. I bet they’d be huge fans of your books, too!