Expecting baby Gill

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dec. 16, 2010

Dear Leslie,

"Mrs. Gill's Baby" is the working title of the book Mrs. Gill's second-grade class at Blanchard School is writing this year. Mrs. Gill used to be named Kristin Hummel. Her class read with me last year and wrote a how-to book titled "How To." Last summer on a beach in Mexico, Ms. Hummel became Kristin Gill.

Now she and her husband Chad are expecting in the spring. Her class is taking the opportunity to write a book about her baby. One week the students wrote about why babies cry and ways to try to stop them from crying. Another week they helped Mrs. Gill design the baby's nursery. "Build a cage" was one student's suggestion.

This week the class compiled a list of possible first and middle names for the baby. Some unique names were expected, especially since Mrs. Gill confided they'd had a sugary treat at lunch. Sure enough, Daley proposed naming Mrs. Gill's baby Been There Done That. But many followed the tradition of naming a baby for someone you like or admire. One student offered the name of her stepfather Ronnie.

Mrs. Gill assigned the students name-that-baby homework. Each is to ask their parents why their own name was chosen. Mariah already knows she was named for the singer Mariah Carey. Some of the students have biblical names.

Blanchard is a school with students from many different economic and cultural backgrounds. The school has struggled to fulfill the assessment mandates of No Child Left Behind while coming as close as imaginable to fulfilling the spirit of the act. No child who attends Blanchard is unloved.

Last week several adults from the community discussed books with students at Blanchard at a schoolwide event called Blanchard Reads. The lower grades read "Flat Stanley," a book about a literally two-dimensional boy. The upper grades read "The Leanin' Dog." "The Leanin' Dog" is told by an 11-year-old girl named Dessa Dean, who has nightmares and "daymares" from watching her mother freeze to death in the mountains where they live.

Dessa Dean no longer will step off the porch of the cabin she and her father live in but finally confronts her fears thanks to the injured stray dog she befriends.

Mrs. Pennington's fourth-grade class at Blanchard included a number of students who read with me when they were in the second grade. Their lively questions and curiosity made me think of reading "The Boxcar Children" in the third grade. My class at Jefferson School was enthralled as Miss Bowers read to us of orphaned children who run away to live in a boxcar in the woods. My memories of the book may not be accurate, but they are of children who help each other survive and meals of squirrel and sourdough biscuits. They had a wonderful life, I thought.

Dessa Dean spends much of this book searching for her dog's true name. When the dog finally responds, Dessa Dean's father tells her, "A dog knows when she's found a soul that understands her."

I wanted to name one of our new dogs for Dizzy Dean and Dizzy Gillespie, but when we saw him spin in circles each time his newly filled food bowl began descending toward the floor we knew he was Dizzy all the way around.

Like dogs, people seem to become their names.

When Mrs. Gill asked the class to tell me one thing they really want for Christmas, electronic games and dolls topped many of the students' lists. Some couldn't limit their wants to one thing. "Remember the G-word we talked about?" Mrs. Gill asked.

"Greed," the children said as one.

That's when an angelic-faced girl named Serenity raised her hand.

"I just want everyone to have a merry Christmas," she said.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former Southeast Missourian reporter.

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