Thursday, October 6, 2011

My First Book, Actually

When I speak at conferences and schools, I sometimes hold up my first published book from 1972 to show how much children's books have changed over time. But that really wasn't my first book. My entire eighth grade class of 24 authored a book way back in 1954 called "Shark Point and High Point." The title referred to our home towns, Tiburon, which means 'shark' in Spanish, and Belvedere, loosely translated into Italian/French as a 'high point' commanding a beautiful view. Our teacher, Miss Wilson, felt that this group of 24 students, could accomplish the goal of researching, writing, and illustrating a an accurate and valuable local history, and that's what we did.

In the process, we learned so many skills--how to research newspaper archives, carry out informative interviews, evaluate historic documents, write collaboratively, and so much more. Our history has become a landmark document, and creating it enriched and changed our lives.

When I look at one of my precious copies of our classic, I think about how different such a document would look today, with Google maps, color photos, actual book binding, professional type. We had to hand type, then mimeograph our pages; hand draw the maps, and hand assemble the pages into binders by collating as we each circled around a big table, picking up the pages one by one to create a single volume. I don't know our final "print run," but I imagine it must have been more than 100 copies. Each copy was created for a specific member of a family. I now own three or four of them, my own plus those of my late grandfather (shown here) and sister, and perhaps another that's in a storage box somewhere.

Creating this book taught us all so much we never would have learned otherwise, and I wonder how many young people today could be blessed with such an opportunity. I doubt many public school teachers could pull it off--modern concerns about tight budgets, law suits, teaching to the test, and so forth, keep such precious, creative, and priceless experiences out of the reach of most American children these days. Our book was revised by other Reed School eighth graders in 1958 and 1970, but to my knowledge not more recently. I just hope that any students today who are able to participate in special projects like this realize how fortunate they are. I am still grateful.

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