Leaving a Mark: Reflections on Week 1 of the Summer Reading Pogram

When I was in college, one of my favorite quotes was by Socrates.

The unexamined life is not worth living.

To me it was a reminder to make time to reflect upon my choices, how I spent my time, the direction I was headed in order to know how to live my best life possible. In educational circles, I believe they call this being a reflective practitioner. Basically, we act/live then examine/reflect.

So while I know that the summer is my busiest season (made even busier by the fact that I currently have a 3 year old and a nearly 4 month old at home!), I want to do my best to take time to reflect upon what I’m learning or even just catalog some of what I’d call “the wins” in my journey – those moments that make it all worthwhile and remind me why I do what I do.

So in no particular order, here’s a look back at some meaningful moments from Week 1 of my Summer Reading Program Tour:

Audience Members Visibly Moved

While my work is primarily aimed at young audiences, I am continually reminded that there is power in a story no matter our age. This summer I’m telling stories of reconciliation that seem particularly moving to the adults – so much so that I’ve seen lots of folks dabbing at their eyes and holding back tears. I wonder if this is because children tend to be more forgiving than adults – and don’t yet have a lifetime to remember all of the grudges they’ve harbored and times they’ve refused forgiveness or how broken our world is as a result of us building walls instead of bridges.

Making Memories

This week I received a confirmation call before a program. In her voicemail, the librarian said, “We made a lot of wonderful memories the last time you were here. And we’re looking forward to making lots more!” During my visit, she recounted the impact my last performance had made on one family in particular and recalled details from the story I’d shared three years prior. This time around there was a young girl who took on the role of Old Joe in my story. She really got into the character both with her voice and gestures. Afterward, the librarian complimented her and asked if she’d ever been in a play. She said no, but that she would like to. Perhaps another actress has been born!

Leaving a Mark

Over the past year or so, I have visited an early childhood education center on multiple occasions. After this week’s program, the director sent me an email saying how much the children (and teachers!) loved the performance and how the kids talk about my stories “for days and days.” Knowing that my work is leaving a mark on these young minds is such an encouragement!

And that’s just the beginning. I’ll have a few more reflections on Week 1 coming soon!

2017 Summer Reading Program Tour Schedule

And now, without further ado. . . my summer tour schedule! Below you will find a complete list of the places where I’ll be traveling to perform this summer. I’m excited to return to some places I’ve been before as well as branch out to some new locations. With the exception of the programs listed in italics, all programs are free and open to the public. However, if it’s a library program, you may want to check with the library ahead of time to see if registration is required.

I’m excited about this summer’s program Peace Builders and look forward to sharing it with as many folks as possible!! So please feel free to share this post and spread the word to your friends. For more information on Peace Builders, click here.




June 3rd

10am: Solon Library


June 5th

3pm: Granville Library

6:30pm: Pataskala Library


June 8th

11am & 11:30am: Shaw JCC

2pm: Norton Library


June 10th

12:30pm: West Salem Library


June 13th

1pm: Goodyear Library


June 15th

12:15pm: Rodman Public Library (Alliance)

1:15pm: Rodman Library – Summer Explorers


June 21st

2pm: Richfield Library


June 23rd:

5pm: Cuyahoga Falls Kids Fest


June 28th

10:30am: Perry Cook Library

2pm: Galion Library




July 12th

10am: Clyde Library

2pm: Birchard Library


July 19th

11am: Girard Library

2pm: Warren Library


July 20th

10am: City of Green Parks


July 22nd

12pm: Metro-Health Hospital Preemie Party


July 24th

1pm: Barberton Library


July 25th

2pm: Nordonia Library


July 26th

1pm: Odom Library


July 29th

1:30pm: Kirtland Library




August 7th

10am: Lakewood Memorial Library (Lakewood, NY)


August 14th

10am: Kids Ahead Camp

How 5 Years Changes Everything: Adventures of a Classroom Teaching Artist

Over the past two months I had the unique experience of working on story writing and storytelling with two fourth grade classrooms and six ninth  grade classrooms. Some weeks I’d be with the fourth graders one day and the ninth graders the very next day. To say that there was a huge difference in the groups would be putting it mildly.

When you walk into a fourth grade classroom as a teaching artist, you are made to feel like a rock star.


     “Miss Lindsay is here!”


    “Hello Miss Lindsay!!!!!!!!”

Children are running up to you with hugs, stories and even little gifts they’ve made for you. There is a sense of uncontainable excitement at your very presence  — and you don’t have to work that hard to achieve it.


When you walk into a ninth grade classroom, the vibe is very different. You can almost hear the inner monologues in the students’ heads.

      “Ugh! What is she going to make us do?”

       “This is going to be stupid.”

       “Why are we doing this?”

       “What a waste of time!”

You are met with looks of skepticism, boredom, even dread. Add to that the fact that high school students these days have smartphones, earbuds, and laptops all at their disposal and you can see that it’s an uphill battle trying to get, let alone keep, their attention.

As a teaching artist, I give my all in both circumstances, yet in the fourth grade classroom it’s much easier to do because you’re getting so much back from your “audience.” Every hand is going up when you ask a question or request a volunteer. In the ninth grade classroom, it’s often the same few students responding to every question — and if it weren’t for them you might feel like you were talking to an empty room. When I leave the fourth grade classroom, I feel confident that the students were engaged and inspired. When I leave the ninth grade classroom, I wonder if anything I said stuck — and I feel the need to ask the teacher if there’s anything she’d like me to change for future visits to get more engagement. The usual answer is: “Nope. That was actually a high level of engagement for them.”

Yes, it’s amazing what 5 years can do. How it moves us from the mindset of everything being exciting to nothing being exciting — until proven otherwise.

That’s why when you get an email from the ninth  grade teacher you were working with saying the following, it means a lot.

I just wanted to thank you again for your help in teaching my students about storytelling…they really seemed to enjoy it once they actually did it

. . . they were SO nervous and felt like there was no way they could get up in front of the room and tell a story without any notes or help.  And yet, every student was able to do it with no issues, and after they were done, I heard them all talking about how it ‘wasn’t bad at all’ and that ‘it actually was really fun and kinda easy!’

It was so fun to see them find such success and to enjoy it at the same time.  There are so many moments of teaching that have been sucked dry of creativity because of all the testing, so I really appreciate you helping us to have some fun and to be creative again!

It would be easy to write-off the students who appear uninterested. It would be easy to “phone it in” as I work with a group that seems unmotivated. Instead, I will continue to pour as much of myself as I can into my work because appearances can be deceiving. Because when you’re fourteen instead of nine, you are often less likely to hand over your trust or your interest to just anyone. Sometimes you have to be won over slowly.

I’m not in the classroom every day, and yet I know what a challenge it is to keep pouring so much of yourself into your work and wondering if you’re going to get a response. That’s why I have such a great respect and admiration for the teachers who do this day in and day out. They are true heroes — and our world is a better place because of them!

My Friend, Abu Bhakar: A Refugee Story

We are living in difficult times. Polarizing times. Times that would seek to divide us instead of unite. The words ‘refugee’ and ‘immigrant’ have been buzz words in the news lately. It’s probably no secret, based on the work that I do and the people that I share my life with, that both of these words carry a lot of weight to me. Most of the time I don’t say too much because I don’t want my voice to be one that merely adds to the noise and brings division. So I find myself asking the question: How can I add to the conversation constructively? And the best thing I can think to do is to tell stories. . .

In 2005 I was living in Madrid, Spain. One Sunday morning I was sitting in Bible Study at my Spanish-speaking church when one of the ushers came and called me out of the room. “We need your help,” he said. “A man has arrived who only speaks English, and we need a translator.”

On any other day, they wouldn’t have called for me. Both of the pastors at the church spoke English as well as the piano player in the worship band – but for some serendipitous reason, none of them were there that day. So as the only English speaker available, I was led to the back of the church where a tall African man sat. His humongous hand gently engulfed mine as he introduced himself as Abu Bhakar.

He had a kind and innocent face and through our conversation I learned that he had arrived by boat to southern Spain. A volunteer who had received him at his point of entry had given him a piece of paper with the name of our church. She’d told him, “When you’re transferred to the refugee center in Madrid, find this church. They will help you.”

Abu Bhakar told us how cold he was in the refugee center so the first thing we did was help him to find a winter coat from the church’s clothing donation box – quite a challenge as he was much taller than your average madrileno! Over the next weeks, I served as his translator during our worship services. My husband, Estith (my boyfriend at the time) and I forged a friendship with him. One day we invited him to eat lunch with us at Burger King. I’ll never forget how he took the tiniest, slowest bites of his sandwich and fries and ended up wrapping up more than half of them to eat later. I’ll never forget how he described the horrors that had caused him to leave his war-torn homeland behind. The horrors of the over-crowded boat he came in where mothers had dead infants wrenched from their arms to avoid the spread of illness. I’ll never forget him describing his worries for the grandmother he’d left behind, wondering who would provide for her, and then the look of sheer joy on his face when we took him to a locutorio, a Spanish call center, so he could let her know he was safe.

A few weeks later, we took him on another adventure. In the newspaper, I’d read about Burrolandia, a place for “retired” donkeys to spend their last days after years of hard labor and often brutal treatment. I have always loved donkeys, and I was determined to go. So one day after church, Estith, Abu Bhakar and I set out for Burrolandia. We made the trip by bus and were dropped off in a remote area where the three of us walked a dusty road in search of donkeys. We were a most unlikely crew – the tall, dark-skinned Sierra Leonian, the long, dark-haired Colombian and the blonde-haired, blue-eyed American.

We spent the day petting old, mistreated donkeys and taking pictures with them. We sent Abu Bhakar back to the refugee center with a bar of soap made with donkey milk. He said it was one of the happiest days of his life. Judging by his smile in the pictures, I believe it was true.

After a time, we didn’t see Abu Bhakar again. He stopped coming to the church, and I wondered what had happened to him. The question lingered months later after I’d moved back to the states to begin the process of getting Estith a fiance visa – a process that would take nine months.

Then one day Estith called me with excitement in his voice. He said that he’d received a call from Abu Bhakar. He wanted to let us know that he had been transferred to another refugee center in the southern part of Spain. The weather was much warmer there and more like his homeland. He said he just wanted us to know that he was safe and doing well.

As I type those words, I can feel the tears stinging my eyes. That call meant the world to me. I was filled with so much joy to know that Abu Bhakar was okay and to know how much it mattered to him to let us know that. That was the last we ever heard from him. I have no idea where he is today.

I hope that he was able to carve out a life for himself in Spain. I hope that he was able to find a way to achieve his goal of financially assisting his grandmother. I have so many hopes for Abu Bhakar, and I will never know if they were fulfilled.

What I do know is that the word “refugee” is more than a buzz word to me. It’s a word that describes a real person with whom I laughed, shared meals and had a crazy donkey adventure. It’s a word that describes someone I will never forget.

That’s why in these difficult times I will do one of the only things I know how to do . . .  I will keep telling stories.

Spreading Holiday Cheer: A Lesson Learned from a 2 Year Old

This past week my husband, son, and I went out for lunch at one of those fast-food type chains where you choose your meal then go through the line to select your toppings. When we made it to the end of the line, we were greeted by one of the unfriendliest cashiers I have ever encountered. She seemed to have a permanent scowl on her face and didn’t even try to perk up for us. When her smiling co-worker passed her our bowls, she snapped at her – “What is this?” — as she tried to determine how to ring it up.

Now whether she is the kind of person who is perpetually unhappy or was just having a bad day, I don’t know. All I do know is that on this particular day she seemed to be looking at everyone and everything in the world around her with disgust and contempt.

My husband took my son and our tray to a table as I paid for the meal. When I sat down, we both raised our eyebrows at one another and made some comments underneath our breath about her unfriendly attitude. Then I realized (with dread!) that I needed to go and ask for another bowl for my son. At this point, she was arranging something on the other side of the counter. She asked someone to hand her a bowl, but her co-workers were either too busy or didn’t hear her. She stalked around to the other side of the counter, eyes ablaze, and as she did you could almost hear her inner monologue: “UGH!!!!!!!!” When I returned to the table with the bowl, my husband and I exchanged glances once more.

As we were enjoying our meal, this same cashier came over to organize the straws and plastic ware that were on the island next our table. As she did, I noticed my son, Rafael, smiling at her. He put a hand over his face and began peeking through his fingers – giggling and squealing in delight. When I glanced over, she was waving at him with wiggly fingers, a smile on her face.

That’s when it hit me — the realization of how quick we are to make silent judgments about people and write them off as unpleasant lost causes. Instead, what we should be doing is looking for ways to make their day a little brighter. To give them a reason to smile. That’s what I saw my son doing — and it worked!

As they say, if you want to find the bad in a person or in the world, you will find it. If you want to find the good, you will find that too. I love that my son did something very simple to spread joy. And I love that he taught me something in the process. The next time I come across a disgruntled person — in whatever capacity I happen to meet them – I hope I will remember that it’s just as easy to smile and try to brighten their day as it is to roll my eyes and make a snide comment about their behavior.

Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we all tried to spread some cheer all year round?