where all things literacy come full circle…


Eight years ago I read a book aloud in my class.

The book was by Jerry Spinelli.


The title was Milkweed.


I remember picking up this book because 1. it was a new book from Jerry Spinelli and 2. it was such a different book from others he had written.

It has become one of my favorites.

It has become a favorite for my former students as well.

They are now 19 and it still has an influence in their lives.

One student wrote this to me…(we read Milkweed and talked about the Holocaust).

“Just so I won’t completely bore everyone on that message, here are my future plans. This summer I am taking summer term at BYU studying just Anthropology and Mission Prep. I hope to major in Anthropology, and minor in international development or Jewish or Russian studies. I want to focus becoming an ethnographer in Jewish communities in former the USSR. I want to do something with social work/refugee work as well.. but I haven’t quite figured that out yet. A big part of how I got the idea and my love for those two cultures came from when we did our holocaust unit. I had NO idea that genocides happen, and that that had happened. It was a big shock to find that more recently in history that those same genocides still happen today. Anyway… so thank you for being apart of this!”

I then was on Instagram and saw this from a different former student:


*Check out the hashtags*

Jerry Spinelli was going to be at NCTE in Boston.

I was going to be there too.

I wanted to see him. I really did!

I ran through the exhibit hall to where he was going to be. I asked one of the exhibitors if his signing was over. She said that it was but that he was still standing at the signing table and was really nice and that he may sign something for you. She pointed over to the signing table.

I walked up to him. He was shorter than I had imagined. And had more white hair than he did in his picture on the jacket of my copy of Maniac Magee. (Of course Maniac Magee was written over 20 years ago…geesh!)

“Hey Mr. Spinelli.”

“Hey”, he replied, looking up at me.

“I just wanted to come up and say that you are one of my favorite authors and that you have really inspired my former students. We read Milkweed when they were in my class eight years ago and it has changed their lives.”


“Yes, one student wants to be an anthropologist and help Jewish people in Europe. And another sent this picture to me.”

I showed him the Instagram picture. (See above.)

He looked at me after reading it and said, “do you see these girls?”

I said, “I have…and will.”

“Next time you see them, will you give them a big hug for me?”

“You bet Mr. Spinelli.”

He then signed my copy of Maniac Magee.

Later that night, I wrote on Facebook:

Kelsey, I saw over the weekend and told Jerry Spinelli how the book Milkweed influenced you and your life goals! He was blown away! He told me to give you a hug…if you were there he would have given you that hug himself!


Kassidee, guess who I saw over the weekend? Jerry Spinelli! I told him about you and showed him the Instagram picture you took! He told me to give you a BIG hug! It was an honor to tell him about YOU!

She replied: AHHHH!! No frickin way!! I’m so jealous but happy you remembered!

Of course I remembered. My students were and are awesome.

And I am continually inspired by them.


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11 thoughts on “Inspired.

  1. Thank you for sharing this, John! It makes me smile so big 🙂 Love stories like this. And, I am also a big Jerry Spinelli fan. But, who isn’t? 🙂

  2. I love this story! I remember seeing the messages on FB but it’s so much cooler to see it all written up like this. 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for these kind words. Isn’t it amazing what a book can do? This is a pretty special post for me.

  4. I’m reading Milkweed aloud to my 6th graders now!! I passed J. Spinelli at NCTE in the convention hallway, but I missed his signing. 😦 I think he’s terrific, and I’m so glad you got to tell him about your former students.

  5. What an impact a book, an author, and a teacher can have. Love that you got to see him!

  6. Inspiring! I just shared this with all the instructional coaches that I work with. We never know the full impact or the ripple effect of our teaching, our writing, and our living on the lives of others. Thank you!

  7. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 12-12-2013 | The Author Chronicles

  8. What a powerful reminder of the influences we can have, as teachers, on the lives of so many. Often, though, we don’t know or hear back to get the full impact of a few chosen words or the perfect book for the right class at the time. Great sharing.

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