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“Be a Robin Reader”

It was hard for the family and friends of Horn Book contributor Robin Smith to say goodbye to her after her death from bone cancer in late June, but we gathered to do so in Nashville in mid-July of this year. There were lots of tears as friends, family, colleagues, and many of her current and former second-grade students shared memories and reluctant farewells. But there was also laughter and music, as well as readings from some of her favorite children’s books. Of course. As Robin wanted it.

Robin was a founding member of our book club here in middle Tennessee, the Newberians, so named because we read children’s books. The club was formed with the express intention of reading all the Newbery winners since the award’s inception. (One more Newbery winner, and we will have reached that goal.) Just before Robin’s death, we embarked upon a special project in her honor. We wanted to be sure to carry it out while she was still with us. Doing this after her death was unacceptable to us, as we wanted her to see nothing less than her own legacy in action. After all, she knew she had limited time to live and was open with us about it.

Robin and her family spent their summers on Little Cranberry Island on the coast of Maine, where their friend author-illustrator Ashley Bryan makes his home. There are two schools in the Cranberry Isles district, and the one on Little Cranberry serves a tiny number of students from kindergarten to eighth grade. In 2012, that school’s name was changed from Islesford School to the Ashley Bryan School to honor Ashley and celebrate his life and talents.

Robin loved teaching and taught second grade for nearly 25 years. She loved reading and, in particular, children’s books. She loved Ashley and her time on the island. For these reasons, the book club decided to donate some brand-new, hand-selected children’s books in Robin’s name to the school. Robin seemed so pleased to have received photos via email of the children opening the boxes of books, giant smiles on their faces, though unfortunately she died before getting the chance to read their handwritten thank-you notes.

Needless to say, we wanted the students and teachers there to know about the unforgettable woman in whose name they were receiving these books. Illustrator and fellow Newberian Susan Eaddy created a bookplate for the books, which enthusiastically recommended we all become “Robin Readers.” In a note to the children, we told them that Robin was a devoted teacher, who knew a lot about children’s books. We also told them about the bookplate, explaining:

A Robin Reader is someone who loves to read and be read to. A Robin Reader loves to curl up with a good book. A Robin Reader loves a really great story. Do you see the cat on the bookplate? That is Robin’s cat, Spike, who has a very short tail and is always by her side. The bird is a robin, and the robin is knitting, because our Robin loves to knit — and knits beautifully.

See how the robin and the cat are sitting on an island? That’s because Cranberry Island is one of Robin’s favorite places in all the world. She has visited there every summer for many years. She has told us so much about it that we feel as if we have been there ourselves. She is a dear friend to Ashley Bryan, and because we love Robin and Ashley’s art and books, we are happy to send you some new books to read.

It makes us happy to know the students have some excellent new books to read and share, and it makes us even happier that they know about the remarkable woman in whose name we gifted the books.

We encourage others to choose a school or library and donate books in honor of someone special. If that someone is Robin, we will happily supply the bookplates. (Please contact me at seventhings at gmail dot com for more details.)

Here’s to new generations of Robin Readers.

Julie Danielson About Julie Danielson

Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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Comments

  1. Betty Tisel says:

    I’ve personally dubbed the Little Free Library by my local playground a Robin Reader location, filling it every few weeks with a variety of quality, diverse picture books that I’ve gleaned from thrift stores on senior discount days. It’s my little way to honor Robin in an ongoing way. The playground attracts all sorts of kids and families and the box is always nearly empty when I refill it.

  2. Dean Schneider says:

    Thank you, Jules. As Robin’s husband, I’ve cried through every one of the wonderful tributes to Robin at this site and in the magazine, and your post above is no exception. Thank you for continuing this. And thank you to Betty Tisel, who contacts me frequently with pictures of new books contributed. And thank-you notes from the children of Little Cranberry Island were wonderful, too. It’s a legacy that Robin would be proud of.

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