Reading new meaning into lessons on life
by Juanita Hughes, columnist
September 17, 2013 11:59 PM | 921 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Juanita Hughes
Juanita Hughes
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I had not thought about Robert Fulghum’s book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” in ages, but recently ran across a children’s book that brought it to mind.

I found Fulghum’s book on my personal book shelf, and spent a few minutes refreshing my memory. Although he does put life into a nutshell of sorts, he did leave out a few little items.

This new children’s book fills in the gap. It’s titled “Sophie May and the Shoe Untying Fairy.”

Now mind you, when I was a child, there was no public kindergarten, and no one I knew ever went to kindergarten. Mr. Fulghum had not been born yet, and mothers and first-grade teachers were entrusted with our early education.

We learned much from experience, and often the experience was a paddling or scolding. We learned to share and play fair. We knew not to hit people, and we knew to put things back where we found them. And the list goes on.

But Mr. Fulghum never mentioned shoe laces, perhaps because that item was in no way connected with his philosophy of doing the right thing in life. But tell me where would we be if we hadn’t learned how to tie our shoes.

Many mothers had persisted, knowing that school teachers had enough to do to teach ABCs and 123s without stopping 20 times a day to tie someone’s shoe laces. Velcro and shoe styles changed that, for the most part, but shoestrings didn’t go away.

“Good Old Days” memories for my generation and my children’s generation will always include high-top baby shoes, saddle oxfords and lace-up Buster Browns and Grasshoppers and Keds. No doubt there will eventually be a generation who has no memory of shoestrings … and a lot of other things that are no longer around except in our memory.

That’s why I was so glad recently to meet Kathleen Howard. She and her friend Rosalind Bunn have written the book about Sophie May and how she finally deciphered the untying fairy’s instructions about this very difficult task after many entangling encounters.

The authors were kindergarten teachers and would often joke about the possibility of a fairy who spent her days untying the shoestrings of the students. Those thoughts and remarks led to the fulfillment of a dream that each of them had of someday writing children’s books.

They put that imaginary fairy in a story, found an illustrator, Lydia Rupinski, and a publisher, and now it’s our story as well. I fell in love with Sophie May on the first page when she chose pink high-top tennis shoes for her school attire. How cool is that.

But the best part of the story would have fit nicely into Fulghum’s book when Sophie teaches another student (a boy!) how to tie his shoes.

The rest of the story is that the authors will be at FoxTale on Saturday at 11 a.m. It’s a wonderful way to close out this first school break of the year.

Bring your little ones and enjoy some time with these two ladies.

They will also share their second book, “The Butter Bean Lady,” a different kind of story based on a true childhood memory of their friend Dianne Gurr. The characters are real people, no fairy tale here, and the setting is in Georgia during the 1950s.

The story is an ageless one, and these authors have presented a rare situation for that day in a thoughtful and inspiring story. Children will especially enjoy hearing and seeing illustrations of the games children played then: hopscotch, jump rope, making mud pies, dressing up in clothes from another day and time, including grandmother’s wedding dress.

And the butter beans, and the woman who grew them and the grandmother who cooked them … all came together at the dinner table. When the day was done, their tummies were full and their hearts were full.

These are books to be treasured. I look forward to sharing them with great-granddaughters, 6-year-old twins and their big first-grade sister.

One of the twins will read to me. She has already passed that magical point where there are no hidden secrets in the written word. I have no words to describe the feeling I had when she first read an entire book to me without a glitch.

It brought to my mind Strickland Gillilan’s rhyme, “Richer than I you can never be ... I had a mother who read to me.” But it was in reverse.

See you Saturday at FoxTale.



Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian, and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.
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