Following our fine experiences as Chapel guests of the Lipscomb Academy pre-K/K and third grade Book Day readers (click here for Otis the Mustang, Part ONE), we found ourselves welcomed with a perfect poster and sweeping seas of smiles by the seriously sensational second graders (Don’t you love alliteration? I do, dearly, for double the delight and dazzle… click here for more Vocabulary of Otis.).
The absolutely fantastic Mrs. Lankford of second grade made us feel quite at home… and a homecoming, indeed, it was, as our oldest is a graduate of her class. If every elementary ankle-biter could experience a Mrs. Lankford, somewhere along the way of their schooling, well… this world would just be a finer place all together! She inspired Chapter 16, near the end of the book, because my oldest was wrapping up his second grade year with her when I completed the manuscript for Otis Goes to School.
All four classes of second grade, and all their amazing teachers, filed into our hostess’s classroom. They spotted the star–Otis, of course–and there was immediate mutual love between these children and this canine. After a little background about creative writing, book planning and production, and the sentimental history of Otis, we dove into two of the chapters between the front and back covers of Otis Goes to School.
I chose Chapter 13, “Pond-Dog,” for this bunch. There is a particular water feature around which the happenings of this chapter take place, and it sits just behind the second grade classrooms, so I knew Otis’s discoveries thereabout would prove extra special, and would ring that bell of familiarity with ease and recognizable description.
And just as I suspected, they did not disappoint. They recognized the pond immediately, and that perfect likeness to Otis therein, as well.
Otis sat, and then stood, and then sat and stood again, and Pond-Dog did the same. Otis panted and sneeze-barked, and snorted a friendly hello, and Pond-Dog did the same. A lovely water-butterfly danced in the air just above Pond-Dog’s ears, and much to his surprise when he looked up, there was a Monarch dancing above his own ears! Otis watched his cotton-ball clouds float to the east, and noticed the pond-clouds did the same. He wondered if they eventually met somewhere far away on the horizon, wherever it is that clouds go.
“…wherever it is that clouds go.” Ahhh, these little ones, they went right along with us, searching our imaginations for those very clouds. We deeply enjoyed all the interest and intensity these second graders exuded. For the Lipscomb set, they might just take the cake for “most into-the-story!”
Of course, we topped it off with Chapter 14, “Lunch.” And good timing, because that’s just what they were ready for!
Distracted from his stealthy-ness by his newfound buffet line, Otis brushed against the legs of the cornbread girl, and his soft fur tickled her knees. She lowered her head and peered under the table, still laughing along with her friends, and spotted Otis, who paused with a deer-in-the-headlight expression.
“A dog!” the girl called loudly to her friend. “Y’all look at the dog under the table!”
And they all swiveled and twisted on their stools to crouch down for a better look, raising the noise-level all the while.
“Oh my, it IS a dog!” one girl exclaimed.
“He’s cute!” another declared. Well that was surely a nice thing to say.
“Dude, that’s awesome–a dog in School. Hey, feed him my carrots!” a goofy boy insisted, holding down a bright orange carrot between his finger and thumb.
“Hey, that’s that dog that hangs out the window every afternoon in the pick-up line!”
“Naw, can’t be, somebody tell the teachers…”
“Here boy, have a nugget!”
Otis grabbed the carrot and the nugget and kept moving forward under the table. Yep, he had been discovered, but it was worth it. Lunch had been spectacular. Students petted him and scratched his ears as he stepped over feet and lunchboxes. The commotion had drawn the attention of the teachers at this point, but it was nearly impossible to contain the excitement of children who had just found a big black dog under their lunch table.
There were squeals and hollering and he knew he heard his name several times. More food appeared under the table, served in the palms of chuckling children. “That’s Otis!” someone insisted…
See you in the pick-up line, second-grade. You are always the BEST at waving to Otis in the afternoons. He’s extra happy and shows off that polka-dotted pant in a large way when you greet him coming around that curve.
To the First Grade!
And less than 24 hours later, we were welcomed into the first grade classrooms, and into the extra huggable arms of these bright and dear young ones. You do know, first grade is training ground for the best huggers of the future. I don’t remember when I’ve received better hugs than in first grade classrooms. These students are still the age of love in its most pure, childlike form, and they give it freely to those who look upon them with likewise admiration and appreciation (…and they do admire alliteration!).
Perhaps all the hugs are why these teachers smile so easily, so readily, even (perhaps, especially) upon the little learners who might challenge the very patience of Job with their wiggly-ness and unable-to-stop-talking-for-one-blessed-moment-ness. There are first graders who follow the playbook as though life depends upon successful tippy-toeing between the clearly explained bylaws of first grade. And then… and then… they are those who run haphazardly through the bylaws, past all the exceptions and clear into the unchartered territory of the first grader’s inquisitively insistent, “…but why?” (Thank you to my children’s Uncle LaGard Smith, for that succinct yet ridiculously accurate two-word summation of the ever wondering six-year-old’s favorite question.)
How do I know, you ask? Let’s just say, the blessing of raising three children (three vastly different little Bramletts, who artfully resemble each other in looks, yet somehow encompass the full spectrum of personality possibilities within this gene pool) comes with the revelation that truly, no two children are alike, nor should they be. They definitely approach the playbook from all angles. And first-grade-caliber hugs help smooth those angles, no doubt here.
How else do I know? It might be duly noted that Yours Truly, when in first grade, loved school deeply, and was often ready with some profound (wink) answer and exuberantly raised hand… it is possible that said hand might have been waving rapidly back and forth with ferocious first-grade fervor, and that the thumb and tall-man finger may have been snapped a time or two (or three) to grab my dear Mrs. Snellgrove’s attention, so that the enlightened answer/revelation/story might gush forth from the two little pink inward-squeezed lips of this overly excited only-child who scoffed at by-laws and exceptions where spotlight was available. But I gave great hugs, and Mrs. Snellgrove was always smiling!
(Thank you for your patience, Mrs. Snellgrove!)
First graders are exceedingly different and beautiful, but they all hug with wild abandon, with tremendous gusto… and with some pretty strong muscles, too, I might add! These first graders lived up to their high heights of huggability, and ended our 2014 Lipscomb Academy visits with love to last us through the summer.
We were hosted by the very sweet, very gentle and dear Mrs. Woodard, who blessed our oldest two children with her knack for encouraging young readers, her soft voice, and her ever-caring gaze upon the lot of those under her tutelage. Her wonderful, fellow hugged-to-the-max teachers and all the first graders joined us for a reading of the Spring volume of Ella and the Little Red Wagon (quite special, since this was a visit to our very own Ella’s classroom and grade) and Chapter 12, of Otis Goes to School: “The Spelling Test.”
This chapter is based on Mrs. Woodard and her classroom specifically, so these darlings followed right along with all the rituals of the spelling test described… all the knee-bouncing, eraser-to-the-forehead thinking, the clock ticking, the bottom-lip-biting and uplifting teacher-given winks of encouragement. They were right there with me, right there with Otis as he reassures Chapter 12’s first-grader in his spelling of the last word of the test… “DOG.”
Otis was glad the word had not been CAT, as he would have been no help there.
I was so happy to know that just about all these students were ready to get to work on their own stories, their own written adventures of imagination. They also shared much with us about their own dogs and other pets who resemble Otis. And the beauty in that strong compulsion to share the first thought that comes along is the innocent and immediate reminder that children of this age have their worlds before them. They are sitting at start, fumbling for their own sets of keys to the ignition of imagination, and all their engines are Formula-One-worthy. Their potential is boundless, untold and yet-to-be.
That’s why they hug with all their might… because they don’t know “can’t.”
It’s a great thing not to know the meaning of the word, “can’t.” Personally, and in my house, it’s the equivalent of a forbidden four-letter word. “Can’t,” just provokes me, really, and I’m sure my patient husband–who would make Job proud–would agree wholeheartedly. To me, “can’t,” evokes the opposing response of, “wanna bet?”
Actually, the more typical response of this author to the atrocious contraction, “can’t,” is more along the lines of a raised right eyebrow, an ever-so-slight smile with a set jaw and hidden, clenched teeth, nose flared in the fashion of family decent, eyes flashing and scarcely squinted, excessively focused and bluer than before the inherent challenge. I think my husband concurrently shows both eyebrows raised high to wrinkle his concerned forehead, a gritted smile in the oh-boy-here-it-comes fashion, and a tense oh-man-what-path-are-we-about-to-embark-upon sensation. It always works out swimmingly, though, because “can’t,” just won’t do.
These first graders have the right idea. Keep hugging with all your heart and might.
Keep answering that call to tell your own tale, and tell it well (don’t forget your adjectives!).
Never learn the meaning of the word, “can’t.” Step right over it, because you can.
I look forward to keeping up with all the Mustangs. And I can hardly wait to see how you’ve all grown by next year. It’s summertime, so I’m hoping your adventures are laying ground to stories you’ll share with me, upon our next gathering together.
To all of the Lipscomb Academy teachers who invited me, my husband, our dog, family and book into your classrooms, bless you and thank you. Thank you all for what you do everyday, for showing up with excitement, for inspiring our children, for being everything that you are to your own families and then pulling even more from your hearts to share with your students and all their families. Our experiences with your students shall be forever treasured, keeping our hearts full with happy thoughts.
And selfishly, we can’t help but hope for more of the same.
God bless you Mustangs, as you have all greatly blessed us. Have a summerload of fun!
For more excerpts from Otis Goes to School, click here!
To find out how/where you can purchase a book or schedule an appearance, click here!
UPDATE: Here’s a couple of treasures given to me by students after our first grade visit… I love the artwork, and the thought behind the stories! Thank you to Scout and Esme for sharing your talents with me! I’ll treasure them always.