Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Broadway Books First Class Visit From Devlin Elliott

"Peek-A-Boo, I see you!"

If you've ever played this game with an infant you know that the joy it creates is a gift that keeps on giving. There are smiles, giggles and squeals that are seemingly endless and endearingly contagious. And although this activity has more to do with the development of object permanence for the child than outward validation, there is something to be said for the mere joy of seeing and being seen.

The power of "I see you" should never be underestimated.

We are living in dangerous times with the continued escalation of gun violence permeating every corner of our society. Supplying teachers with firearms is a hot topic at the moment and debate is swirling around mental illness, crime prevention and gun control.

Questions arise about early detection and "why wasn't something done about so-and-so before this tragedy took place?" I certainly do not have answers to those kinds of questions and I do not want to engage in a political debate in this forum but I have been thinking about my place in all of this. As an educator, how can I do my part to ensure that children are nurtured, valued and seen?

That question has always concerned me and has become my mission. I wrote about those influences back in 2007 and how, as a child, I vowed to become an adult who respected, cared for and paid attention to children. In today's contentious climate where theories float around suggesting that gun-toting murderers might have taken another path if they were just loved, respected and SEEN as children, it gets me thinking.  Is there something to it? I think there is. So, I continue to do my part and I am keenly aware of others who do the same.

This is one of the reasons I was so thrilled to welcome Devlin Elliott back for the third time as a Broadway Books First Class guest artist. Devlin Elliott really sees children. It's evident in his interactions, which always come across as though the only thing on his schedule is sitting with a group of children (when, in fact, he is quite the busy fella).

In this case, it was a group of Pre-K and First Grade students. Devlin let them know during their introductions that he was an adult who was there to listen, to acknowledge and value them.

Devlin Elliott meets the Pre-K and First Grade students

His visit was the first time these first graders attended a Broadway Books First Class event this year. I prepared them beforehand by reading books and discussing the various roles/jobs associated with the stage. I wanted them to understand this particularly because although Devlin was an actor at one time, he is now a playwright and a Tony-nominated producer.

I also prepared them by rehearsing their introductions. The day before Devlin's visit each child took turns standing up and introducing themselves in American Sign Language (ASL) while I voiced. Rehearsals went off without a hitch but things tended to speed up considerably once Devlin entered the picture. Introductions were flying, with one child popping up before the previous child had a chance to sit.

This wouldn't be such an issue except the first graders were so focused on their role they weren't listening to Devlin's greeting back to them! We slowed things down a bit and let the children know he wanted to say hello back. So, rather than making the introductions something UNimportant (and therefore rushed), they became something important. They became a way to connect. A show of respect that set the tone for the rest of the visit.

Devlin Elliott reads NAUGHTY MABEL with ASL interpreter Amy Meckler

And once again I am struck by how each of us has the power to make choices. We may not have much power over circumstances but we do have power over how we choose to perceive them. We can consciously decide how we want to move through the world.

As Devlin read both of the books in the Naughty Mabel series I thought, "Naughty Mabel may be a handful but she is certainly seen - hard to miss even - and she is certainly loved".  A person (or dog) can graduate successfully from the school of hard knocks if they are both seen and loved.

There is a reason Naughty Mabel was voted the #1 favorite book by my first grade class for the 2015-2016 school year and #6 for the 2016-2017 school year.

Photo Credit: Eileen Lograno
Students take home autographed copies of both NAUGHTY MABEL and NAUGHTY MABEL SEES IT ALL courtesy of Simon & Schuster, Justin Chanda, Devlin Elliott and DonorsChoose

The visit proceeded the same as his previous visits, with the Q&A, a show of gratitude (we gave Devlin a Broadway Books First Class t-shirt), a group photo and a book signing. Devlin saw to it that each child received BOTH BOOKS, which is beyond the beyond fantastic.

There is a beautiful lyric from the show Once on this Island that seems a fitting way to wrap up this post because it speaks to how we interact with one another, the influence those interactions have on who we become and the power of our own word/actions in shaping our perspective...

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