The Legacy of Milly, Part 8

In Part 7, the God Bless America quilt was delivered to the Massachusetts Fisher House in Boston.  The plan was to have a grand event and send-off, but the Director asked if Boston could have the quilt.  Headquarters not only agreed, they approved.  So, Milly and the children gave the quilt a memorable farewell, including singing our book for soldiers staying at the Fisher House.

Part 8

A month later, Beth who is the Director at the Fisher House called me.

“Jennie, the Fisher House will have its one-year anniversary in July.  When that happens, members of the Fisher family come to celebrate, along with many others.  It’s a big event.”

The only celebration  I knew of was that Congressional Medal of Honor recipients attend the grand opening of a new Fisher House.

Beth continued…

“We would like you, Milly, and the children to be the guests of honor.  The quilt will be the main event.”

Gulp!  I was taken aback.

“Beth, that is wonderful, but…”  I didn’t have a chance to finish the sentence.

“The invitations have just gone out.  The quilt is the main feature on the invitation.”

Oh my goodness. There it was, Home Sweet Home, right on the invitation.

I couldn’t wait to tell Milly.

“Jennie, there’s one more thing.  We’d like the children to sing “God Bless America” and present the quilt to the Fisher family and guests.”

Another gulp!  This was big.  Much bigger than I expected.  It took a while to sink in.  The quilt was as important to the Fisher House as it was to Milly and to me and to the children.

Milly was as surprised as I was… and just as delighted.

I notified families.  Many children were able to attend.  We all stood in front of the quilt, in front of a big audience.  Big.  I gave an impromptu speech, telling the guests about the evolution of the quilt.  I told them about the children singing, and how they needed more. I told them about Milly and how she made the words come alive with the quilt.

You could have heard a pin drop.  They wanted more.

I decided to recite the words to the song and point out each part on the quilt as I said the words.  I was all over the place- talking, walking and pointing.  It was much the same as when I read aloud chapter books.  No words were necessary from the audience, their faces said it all.

Then Milly and the children sang their hearts out.  Oh, how they sang! We received a huge round of applause.  That broke the ice, and the thanks and handshakes and smiles exploded.

A  Fisher Foundation Vice President approached Milly with a handshake, pressing something into her hand.  I knew exactly what was happening- she was giving Milly a Command (Challenge) Coin!  I was humbled to witness this happening.  I watched the ‘secret handshake’, which appears to the naked eye to be  a simple exchange of respect, yet holds the surprise of the coin for the recipient.  I understood.  I told Milly all about Command Coins afterwards.  This would mean far more to her than I realized.  Her last words to me years later were about that coin (later post).

Getty Images

The letters of thanks poured in.  And then Milly became sick.  Kidney failure.
She was still the same Milly on the inside.  I asked her to do another quilt
about our school, our towns.  Everyone wanted a quilt to hang at school.
The next adventure began.  Stay tuned for Part 9.


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Dragonflies, Not Bats

A rare dragonfly show tonight.

They were huge.

They swooped high and low, and all around.

I stood with outstretched arms,

and they danced around me.

Thank you, Mother Nature.


Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Giving thanks, Inspiration, Mother Nature, Nature, wonder | Tagged , , , | 59 Comments

A Guest Post for the ULS, The Underground Library Society, by Jennie Fitzkee

What would you do if a beloved book, rich in meaning and literature, were to be banned, gone forever? Would you vow to memorize the book in order to save it? I would. When Charles French, a professor of English Literature, formed a society at Lehigh University in his English 2 class for the purpose of appreciating all books – especially those that have been banned over the years – I knew this was more than a brilliant idea. Much like the storyline in Fahrenheit 451, the members of the ULS (Underground Library Society) pick a banned book to save. The society has now grown beyond the boarders of Lehigh. I chose to champion a classic children’s book. Thank you for including me in the ULS. I am giving a shoutout to readers to become a member and tell the world about your favorite banned book, and why you would save it. Here is my story:

charles french words reading and writing

ULS logo 1

Thank you to Jennie Fitzkee for her guest post for the U.L.S., the Underground Library Society. She deals with a book that is easily misunderstood as being racist, and she details that the story is really about India and not African-Americans. It is important to make the distinction between perception of racism and actual racism, as Jennie does.  Now for her post:

In 1899 Helen Bannerman wrote a children’s book, Little Black Sambo, after she and her husband had lived in India for thirty years.  Helen was born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, and she fondly remembered those years in India.  The classic story is about a little boy who outwits tigers in the jungle.  I dearly loved this story when I was a child, particularly the tigers turning into butter when they ran in circles around the tree.


The boy’s name is Little Black Sambo, his mother is…

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Roots, Wings, and Thunderstorms

A beautiful sky was appearing after the storm tonight.  I love thunderstorms. Watching the clouds grow and change as a storm builds is exciting.  The light becomes very different.  Mother Nature is getting ready to put on quite a show.  And I want to see it all.  It brings back the best memories…

Some years ago I was on my porch with my adult daughter watching the big thunderstorm rumble into our yard. We were both enjoying the anticipation as well as the storm itself. I asked my daughter what memories popped into her head whenever she heard a big storm. She replied, “Camp, of course! We had nothing else; no TV, no computer, just the outdoors. Thunderstorms were great!” Funny thing. This was the same experience with me as a child at camp.

We talked about exciting and adventurous experiences in our childhood, and about childhood itself. We analyzed why children feel the way they do, and what is it that ‘makes a difference’ when they grow up. One thing kept ringing loud and clear. Children who are given experiences that challenge them, who are encouraged to take a chance and ‘do it’, and who have the firm love and support of their family, seem to grow up with a good, strong sense of self. Roots and wings.

I think of the swings on the playground and ‘yelling’ commands with excitement when a child first learns to pump a swing.  “Kick them out.  Tuck them in.  Pull.  Yes, you can do it!”  As children grow older, I think of opening the front door and letting my child ride his bike, alone, to the playground.  Then, going to sleepover camp for a month, at age eight.  My children begged to go, loved every minute of it, and I am convinced it was part of their foundation.  Roots and wings.

I was the opposite of a helicopter parent.  Friends were a little shocked to see my child roller-blading to school.  He couldn’t quite tie the laces tight enough, so his first grade teacher helped him.  They wondered if there was a ‘problem’ when my children went off to camp, and to prep school.  My daughter went to Italy, alone, after college graduation.  We’re talking speaking no Italian, as well.

After all of these different experiences, friends would then say, “Your children are so lucky to have these opportunities”.  That was quite a change.  I would smile and just say, “Roots and wings”.  They had the roots, with plenty of love and support.  Sometimes I felt brave and alone giving them the wings.  That was the hard part.  I’m so glad I did.

In my classroom, I approach each learning experience and activity, planned or unplanned, as an exciting opportunity. We are a family. We help each other, support each other, and encourage each other. We provide roots for each other with daily routine, tenderness, and a positive, fun attitude. We give each other wings when we learn how to write our name, pump a swing, stand in front of a group to talk, or try something new. Roots and wings.

Remember, it’s all the little experiences, over and over again, that we build upon. It’s not the big things that make a difference. Dancing with painted feet, coming to school at night and singing in the dark, shopping in a real Indian market, painting to classical music, setting up nap mats for other children, finding a new place on our big map with the magnifying glass, reading all the name cards without help….it is the culmination of all these activities, and many others, that make the difference in the classroom.

I hope that in years to come, you and your child sit through a thunderstorm together, walk through the woods together, or sing in the dark together, and find it is an experience that is exciting. I hope that you have helped to give your child the experiences to feel a happy and confident sense of self. Roots and wings.


Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Family, Imagination, Inspiration, Mother Nature, Nature, self esteem, wonder | Tagged , , , , , | 64 Comments

The Legacy of Milly, Part 7

In Part 6, the quilt, Milly, and the children were VIPs aboard the Intrepid Museum in NYC.  What an event!  The museum’s Curator called me to say the quilt was too large to hang at the museum.  Their Executive Board unanimously agreed to give the quilt to the Fisher House Foundation – which was started by Zachary Fisher, who also rescued the USS Intrepid.  So, we were off again…

Part 7

We arrived at the Massachusetts Fisher House with children and families in tow to deliver the quilt.  It was to be a proper send-off.  In turn, they would send the quilt on to the Fisher House Foundation.

Beth the Director abruptly excused herself to make a phone call.  She had seen the quilt and looked rather shocked.  We all looked at each other in very uncomfortable silence.  It didn’t help that you could hear a pin drop in this new, way-too-quiet house.

“Jennie, I have just called the Fisher Foundation and have spoken with their Director.”

“Okay…”  I had no idea where this was going.  Maybe they didn’t want to mail something so large?  Oh please, don’t let everything fall apart, especially not in front of Milly and the children.  Boy, was I wrong!

“We want the quilt.  We would be proud to hang it here.  Do you know how many families with children stay at the Fisher House?  Think what it would mean to them, do for them, to see this quilt every day.”

My mind was scrambling to switch gears.  And, I was taken aback thinking of the families of soldiers and sailors.  Who really needs to see this quilt?  They do.  Think Jennie, the quilt would make a difference.

“I have worked this out with the Fisher Foundation.  They think it is a wonderful idea.  What do you think?”

I looked at Milly.  She nodded and smiled.  Even her eyes smiled.

“I think that would be wonderful, Beth.  Thank you.  Where will you hang the quilt?”

“Come with me.”

We all trotted over to the living room, the main room in the house.  Hanging in a place of prominence was a large abstract oil painting.  It was black and white, a series of sharp lines that looked like something angry.  Goodbye ugly painting, and hello beautiful quilt.

At last the children were able to get back to the quilt presentation.

We sang “God Bless America” for a small crowd.  Then we presented Beth with a copy of our book.  It would be there at the house for children and families to read (photos of the inside of the book are in Part 5):

“Jennie, we have some soldiers here in the den.  Can you and the children sing “God Bless America” for them?  Could you sing to them with the book?”

And so we did.  With the book.  That was perhaps the most moving time I have ever had singing “God Bless America.”  One soldier said to me as soon as we finished, “That book needs to go to the Wounded Warrior Project.  It really does.  It’s wonderful.”

I had no idea what the Wounded Warrior Project was.

“They need to put that book into the hands of people.  Everyone needs this.”  The soldier went on and on in great excitement.  It was as if the book would give people another layer of pride, something pure from young children.  I understood.  And, I thanked her.

“No, thank you.” she said.  I was choked up.  All I could do was nod my head- about a hundred times.

And so, the God Bless America quilt hangs proudly at the Massachusetts Fisher House.  I’m so glad!

When we got back home, I contacted Jessica, the Curator at the Intrepid Museum, to get an appropriate contact for the Wounded Warrior Project.  I envisioned they might do something like give a copy of the “God Bless America” book for a donation of a certain amount off money.  Well, that story did not have a happy ending.  My kind letter to the Wounded Warrior Project (he was high up the ladder) along with the book was returned with a rather curt note of  “Not interested.  We have no use for this.”  And that was that.  I still think the soldier was right, and Wounded Warrior was wrong.  Sometimes life just goes like that.

School was nearly over.  I got a call from Beth at the Fisher House.  Apparently, when a new Fisher House is built, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients are there at the grand opening.  Can you imagine?  And then, on the one-year anniversary of a new Fisher House, there is another celebration.  Members of the Fisher family and many other guests are there.  How exciting!

I thought perhaps Beth just wanted me to know.  Then, I thought perhaps I would be on the guest list, or maybe Milly would be on the guest list.  Wrong on both counts.  Her call was far different.  I was shocked… stay tuned for Part 8.



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A Day At the Eric Carle Museum

For book lovers and art lovers, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts has it all.  There are three galleries of rotating art exhibits, the best book store-hands down, and a host of well known authors and illustrators who do special presentations and book signings.  There’s always something happening at The Carle.

And every single time I visit I feel a bit overwhelmed in the best of ways, like a child at Christmas, because there is just so much.  Saturday was no exception.

One of my favorite picture books is Hector Fox and the Giant Quest by Astrid Sheckels. The text is rich in language – words like ‘quest’ – to complement a well written, exciting story.  As soon as I read aloud from the book,

“I wish fairy tales were real sighed little Lucy.”  And that was all it took for Hector and his band of merry friends to go in search of a real giant.

Preschoolers are riveted, waiting, wondering.  Words can do that, particularly good ones- like Hector Fox and the Giant Quest.  I am reminded of what E.B. White said about writing to children:

“Never write down to children.  Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time.  You have to write up, not down.”  -E.B. White-

The illustrations are equally stunning.  They bring the text alive.  Astrid Sheckels was there, at the Eric Carle Museum, to read her book and give a drawing demonstration.  I was fortunate to arrive early and spend time with the author.  There are more Hector Fox books forthcoming!

Watching an illustrator draw characters is fascinating.  Of all the books I’ve read over thirty years, I haven’t watched the artist draw the characters – live!

Of course the children wanted her to draw Hector, and also Lucy.  When the sketch was finished, I suggested that she sign it.  Good idea!

And I was the lucky one to get to take the sketch home!  On my way out of the library, I was directed to the upper corner of the doorway.  Very cool!

The museum’s main exhibit was Paddington Bear.  This is the first time Paddington’s original illustrations, books, and memorabilia have been on exhibit in the United States.  I was in my glory, as I read Paddington Bear books to my children, over and over.  I always wanted to ride on a London bus with Paddington:

And, I will always marvel at seeing original artwork, up close, particularly when it’s familiar from a story.

I loved reading Michael Bond’s letters of acceptance from the publisher.  I wonder what a £75 royalty in 1958 would compare to, in 2018 dollars?

Other works of art from famous illustrators adorned another exhibit.  This was a favorite by Leo and Diane Dillon:

There is always an exhibit on the art of Eric Carle.  Two things struck me.  One of my favorite books is The Tiny Seed, and I saw the original artwork:

The second thing that struck me was learning more about the time Eric Carle was an art student while in Nazi Germany.  I will always remember that his high school art teacher, Fridolin Krauss, risked his own life to show Carle “forbidden art”, you know… Picasso, Klee, Matisse, and Kandinsky.

That changed Carle’s life.

What I did not know, and got to see, was the art Eric Carle was painting while studying under Krauss.  Perhaps this painting will show you the talent Carle had back then, and why Krauss risked his life to show Carle more, much more.

I find this story one of the most moving stories of the twentieth century.  I always find more at the Eric Carle Museum.


Posted in art, Author interview, Book Review, children's books, Early Education, Eric Carle, Imagination, Inspiration, museums, picture books, reading aloud, Teaching young children, The Arts, wonder | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 50 Comments

The Legacy of Milly, Part 6

In Part 5, the children were over the moon singing “God Bless America” at every opportunity.  We sang for soldiers, and made our own God Bless America book for families, writing and illustrating all the words to the song.  Children still wanted more- I could tell.  Milly to the rescue to make a God Bless America quilt.  The Intrepid Museum in NYC was interested in the quilt!

Part 6

The USS Intrepid was a US Navy aircraft carrier commissioned in WWII and in service through the Vietnam war.  When it was decommissioned in 1974, Zachary Fisher  rescued the ship.  It was restored and opened as a museum in 1982.

I did not know of Zachary Fisher.  He becomes important to the quilt later on.

The children and Milly were treated like kings and queens aboard the Intrepid.  First, we were rescued from the long line by the museum’s Curator and whisked onto the carrier.  We had a personal two-hour tour.  I remember all the old, beautiful brass used throughout the ship, the tight quarters, and displays of Navy memorabilia.  The flight deck is home to many different aircraft.  That part of the ship alone is well worth the visit:

The quilt was put on display in the central part of the ship.  The Curator and other staff were present to see it and give us an official welcome.  The public visited the quilt, oohing and aahing, and asking Milly questions.  And then, the children were asked to sing!  With Milly’s beautiful voice leading the children, “God Bless America” could be heard throughout the ship.  There were school groups who stopped by, excited to see the quilt and ask questions.  I enjoyed asking them to find different parts of the song on the quilt, much like an I Spy.  That was fun!

As our visit was nearing an end, Jessica the Curator pulled me aside to have a talk with me.

“Jennie, the quilt is absolutely stunning.  Thank you so much.  Our Executive Board meets the first of each month, and the quilt is on their agenda.  I will be calling you soon.”


A few weeks later Jessica called.

“Jennie, I have good news, although not what you imagine.”

“Okay.”  My heart was pounding.

“The Executive Board feels the quilt isn’t the right size for the Intrepid Museum.  Space and hanging will pose a problem.  It’s too large for the very limited wall space on the hanger deck.”

“I understand.”  My heart was sinking.

“They have made a unanimous decision.  Unanimous!  They love the quilt.”

“Okay.”  My heart was soaring.

“Do you know of Zachary Fisher?”

“I believe he was the guy who rescued the USS Intrepid and turned it into a museum.  Right?”

“Right.  But he did much more than that.  He was a philanthropist and a great supporter of the Armed Forces.  He established many different foundations.  One of the biggest and most important is the Fisher House Foundation.  They provide “homes away from home” for families of hospitalized military personnel.”

“Wow.  Like Ronald McDonald houses for families of sick children?”

“Exactly.  The Executive Board wants to donate the quilt to the Fisher House Foundation.  I hope you agree with me and with the Board that this is quite an honor.”

“Of course, Jessica.  And thank you so much.”

So, the God Bless America would take another twist and turn.  Milly thought this was one of the best adventures.  “Jennie, we had a great trip to the Intrepid.  They wanted to see the quilt and have us visit.  And now, there is something new.”  I just love(d) Milly.  First, I received a phone call from the head of the Fisher House Foundation.  Obviously the Intrepid Museum had been in touch.  They’re located in Rockville, Maryland.

We decided it would be appropriate and fun for the children to deliver the quilt themselves to a Fisher House in Boston.  In that way, it would be more ceremonious and meaningful.  And, more children and families could attend since this would be nearby- not in New York City.  The Fisher House could then mail it to the Foundation.

Perfect.  Or so I thought.

We arranged for this big event.  Everyone wore red, white and blue.  We all met at the Fisher House, which had just been built that year (an important part later).  Beth, the Director, greeted Milly and the children with such warmth.  We were escorted into the living room where we unveiled the quilt.  Beth’s eyes were as big as saucers.  She hadn’t said anything.  Then she said, “Will you please excuse me while I go make a phone call?”  When she returned, I never expected to hear what she was about to say… stay tuned for Part 7.


Posted in art, Early Education, Giving, history, Imagination, Inspiration, military, museums, patriotism, quilting, Singing, Teaching young children, wonder | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 72 Comments