Our local city school district invited my husband and I to present a message for Family Literacy Night based on our work as an author and publisher. GREAT!
Our mission: inspire literacy.
About a week ago the school board got spooked apparently and we received a phone call warning us not promote our religion or talk about God. Not happy with the caveat, but FINE.
Another restriction was implemented, do not bring any religious material. WELL… how do we present who we are and the work we do since my husband owns a Christian publishing company and I write kids books with a biblical theme?
My revolutionary spirit was kindled, but I conceded.
I was asked to submit our material for approval. This is what I submitted.
Why Books Matter
Today you don’t have to eat meat with human waste in it because of a book.
If you are African-American you a free because of a book.
You are an American because of a book.
In 1906 The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was intended to spotlight the terrible working conditions for laborers. Instead, it sickened our nation- literally.
Sinclair discovered that workers in the meat industry were throwing everything from garbage to human waste into the vats of meat that would be processed, packaged and purchased by the public. This book sparked a public outcry for conditions to improve and sanitary practices to be implemented.
In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe penned Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This iconic Ohioian, exposed the brutality of American slavery and did something no other abolitionist accomplished before, she put a face on slavery. She gave a name to slavery. She unmasked the atrocities and inspired a nation to compassion and an eventual end of this grave social injustice.
In 1776, the year of our Declared Independence, Thomas Paine authored Common Sense. Paine indicts the system of a monarchy. He educated and empowered colonists in the Americas to see the inequality and evils of an unchecked, all-powerful King. He said, because we are all God’s children, no one man has a right to rule, create war and punish without considering the will of the people. Thomas Paine inspired the democracy you are now free under.
Books matter. Books share ideas. Books inspire. Books change the world. Books changed your world.
You don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to have a computer or the internet. You just have to have a book.
Why Stories Matter
I am Serena DeGarmo. I share stories. I share stories in books, in blogs and in person.
I live by the power in words.
Words give voice to ideas that change the world. Words speak feelings that we need to express. Words share the stories of our families and our people.
Words create stories. Our stories tell our history and shape our future.
That’s where Penny Sue was born.
My mom tucked me in at night and told me stories of a character she created named Penny Sue. I waited for those stories every night. I wanted to hear the adventures of a brave, spunky, daring girl who went to worlds unknown to me.
Penny Sue opened my eyes to everything I could be. She taught me how to gutsy, strong-willed and courageous.
So of course when I started have children I introduced them to Penny Sue too.
I am the mother of 7 so these stories have evolved quite a bit from those bedtime stories that my mom told me 35 years ago.
Her family has grown but her adventures are still just as daring and brave.
Penny Sue doesn’t just live in my imagination anymore. She lives in books.
This is Penny Sue.
The first time I saw this illustration of Penny Sue I felt like I was meeting long lost friend.
Penny Sue was real.
Penny Sue did more than teach me. Penny Sue helped me heal.
In January of 2013, my 6th child, Azaiah Stone, died in our home from SIDS. I have been to no darker place in my life than that. I wanted to climb in the grave too.
Then something overcame me. I needed to write. I needed to pour out my sadness. I need to write for other families who experienced this type of loss. I need to turn my hurt into help.
My second Penny Sue book will be released sometime next year. In this book Penny Sue loses a brother.
I wrote this story with my children.
In many ways it mirrored our circumstances. In this story Penny Sue and her siblings decide to help other grieving families by taking care packages to the hospital for people with terminally ill babies.
From that book my kids launched an actual ministry that sends care packages to grieving siblings.
Today we have sent packages to 250 children in the US and Canada.
It was all because of a story.
It was our story. Somethings in the story were written for us. But our ending wasn’t. We decided to rewrite our ending.
It’s our story. And we needed a happy ending.
Superintendent ‘s Response:
I don’t think the use of the images for The Jungle or Uncle Tom’s Cabin would be appropriate. I would appreciate it if they would not share those images. Our audience will have very young children and I don’t see any reason to introduce objectionable materials to them. It’s a happy, family event and some folks will not understand the significance of those pieces and will certainly not understand the artwork. I think it would be best to avoid creating any controversies Thursday night. Our end in mind with FAMILY Literacy Night is to encourage families to read together, to learn of the joy of reading, and to help encourage reading in the home.
I am well aware of the ages. I am not just an author or a public speaker. I am a mother of seven children that I am raising to have a social conscience.
The message not intended for fun. It was intended to spark a revolution to a modern culture of parents and children who are illiterate of their history and the literature that shaped the country they live in.
I cannot present in good conscience. I am deeply disappointed in the district for their promotion of ignorance. Our country has a rich, deep culture of righting the evils and social injustices that plague it.
That is what literacy is about. That is the power these kids hold. That is the potential that is being silenced in them.
I don’t do fun and games. I do changing lives and communities for a greater good.
It is my hope that public education will be about that again someday.
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again. -Maya Angelou