Explore Story’s Power to Bring Us Together
The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life
By John Schu
(Stenhouse Publishers, 2022 – Learn more)
Reviewed by Sarah Valter
For the past two years and more, life has been anything but “normal” as educators have fluctuated from virtual learning to masks to a society that has, at best, been ever-changing and unstable.
Throughout everything this time has thrown at teachers, one thing has been constant and true: our need for truth and connection.
How do we find truth and connection? In our stories, both those we create ourselves and the ones we find inside the covers of a book.
This is exactly what John Schu brings to light in his new book for educators, The Gift of Story.
For anyone who has not had the good fortune to find yourself in a workshop led by “Mr. Schu,” he is a force for good in the world of books and literacy. He speaks of books and authors in a way that spreads joy, builds connections, and leaves you filled with excitement to share a love of reading with your students.
The Gift of Story captures this same enthusiasm and brings it to educators everywhere. He states his mission in the very first pages: “Matching children with books is one of the most important roles we have as educators. It’s a sacred task” (p. 5).
Story’s Essential Roles
The Gift of Story is structured in a way that’s easy to read and highly accessible for always busy educators. It’s framed around five roles of story: Clarifier, Healer, Inspiration, Compassion, and Connector.
Each chapter unpacks one of these roles, provides insight “From the Teacher’s Desk” with a brief essay from a practicing educator, and offers an extensive annotated bibliography of books – both picture books and middle grade novels – that support the focus.
Schu leaves space for us to create and track our own list of relevant titles, and includes bite-size quotes throughout the book from professional authors defining their perspective on story, using the hashtag #StoryIs.
Story as Healer
As much as everyone has their own story, we also have an innate human need to see pieces of our stories in the lives of others. In this first role of story, Schu reveals ways that stories can be vicarious, healing experiences for readers, bringing stories out into the world that might otherwise stay hidden.
Story as Inspiration
Stories have the power to make us better versions of ourselves. As Schu examines the role of stories as inspiration, he emphasizes how book talks, book trailers, and visits from authors and illustrators can connect kids with books in ways that spark new ideas and new identities both as humans and as readers. (Bonus: This chapter is full of resources for book trailers, a book talk format, and recommendations for virtual author visits!)
Story as Clarifier
We all know the world can be a messy place sometimes, crammed with ideas and questions and even misconceptions. In thinking about the role of story as clarifier, Schu discusses how stories hold the power to inspire us all to ask and answer questions. Through practices like Makerspaces, Genius Hour, and other activities that cultivate curiosity in our classrooms, all teachers can harness the power of a good book to ignite new ideas and foster wonder as students gain new perspectives about the world.
Story as Compassion
One of the greatest powers stories hold is to help students and school communities build compassion. Whether it is growing a deeper understanding and empathy for others or experiencing the trials of a character who develops deep compassion, books enable readers to better understand the feelings, motivations, and desires of others.
Story as Connector
Mr. Schu closes the book with perhaps the most essential role of story: serving as a connector. Teachers know the important role books can play in building our classroom communities. The Gift of Story highlights how stories can build this community not only in the classroom, but throughout the school, the district, and the larger community.
Schu shares tips for teachers and leaders, including ways to share books from one staff member to another and tips for bringing parents in by incorporating book sharing into PTO meetings and school events.
This chapter also outlines several literacy celebrations you can bring into your classroom or school, including Poem in Your Pocket Day and World Read Aloud Day. This chapter will leave you feeling both connected as a teacher and craving the opportunity to deepen the connections in your own school and community through books.
Reaffirming the power of story
As we head into a new school year this fall, there are many reasons to approach the weeks and months ahead with joy and hope. Though there are many social and political challenges facing our world right now, there are also many reasons to look at our students and see a bright future.
This is the excitement and positivity that Mr. Schu has captured in The Gift of Story – the desire to use the stories that bring us all closer together in ways that make the world a better place.
Read another review of The Gift of Story here at MiddleWeb.
Sarah Valter is the district Literacy Coordinator for Lindbergh Schools in St. Louis, MO. In her two decades in education, Sarah has taught in the primary and intermediate grades, mentored new teachers, coached at the building and district levels, and led professional development in literacy.
Sarah is also an adjunct instructor at St. Louis University and has recently been added as a co-author for the Two Writing Teachers. Sarah believes strongly that all children and adults should not only have the skills to read and write, but also the motivation to live as lifelong readers and writers.