On the Record

Retired teachers keep learning through sharing books

On the record ... with Mary Lambert

SYCAMORE - There’s an old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But retired teacher Mary Lambert said participating in World Book Night has taught her a thing or two about the importance of literature in the community, and has reignited her love of reading.

World Book Night is an annual event in which authors donate books to be given away around the world. Each year, 30 to 35 different books are chosen by a panel of librarians and booksellers to be distributed. To receive copies of one of the books, applicants must write an essay about how the selected book will make a difference in their community. If the essay is accepted, the essayist will receive 20 copies of the book to give to people who do not regularly read, to hopefully inspire them to do so.

This year’s World Book Night is on April 23, and for the second year in a row, four retired teachers from Sycamore School District 427 are planning on distributing books in DeKalb County. Lambert, one of the teachers, sat down to discuss her involvement in World Book Night with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton.

Milton: Why do you help promote and participate in this event?
As a teacher, I think that there’s a lifelong love of learning, that no matter how old you get, there’s just something new to learn. I think that sometimes, we get so focused on our field, that we don’t know what’s out there. You know, I finally learned how to do decimals after teaching sixth grade math. I almost felt that on a daily basis, I learned more than the kids did. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for decimals when I was in sixth grade, but I finally got it when I was teaching. …I’ve taught reading for a certain number of years, and I still don’t understand how people learn to read. It’s a miracle. It depends on their catching on, their development, I guess. I think that reading is one of the hardest things to teach.

Milton: Tell me about your background in education.
I went to Northern and majored in education and literature. I went to Northern several times, as a matter of fact. I have three master’s degrees: elementary education, guidance and counseling, and special education. ...My husband was an English and social studies teacher for 38 years. My two daughters are both teachers. …I taught in the Sycamore School District 427 for 20 years, then I retired. That’s how I met Beverly Finn. She was a speech clinician, and we had some dealings with each other because we worked with the same kids. We were colleagues as well as friends.

Milton: Did you get involved with World Book Night through Beverly Finn?
Yes. There are four of us: myself, Beverly Finn, Sue Liebhaber, and Terri Knapp. Bev Finn was the catalyst.

Milton: How did she help start it?
She has a very good friend whose name is Michael Perry. She and Michael Perry were very close in location in Wisconsin. And Michael was close to, not very far from, where Beverly grew up. She saw on Michael Perry’s website that his book, “Population 485,” was going to be distributed through World Book Night. So she had to write a little essay about why she wanted to distribute the book, and where she would distribute it to, and she was chosen. And then she called her friends.

Milton: Tell me about this year’s book.
This year’s book is “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. It’s about a woman who has many hardships in her life. This woman makes a trek … along the West Coast, from California to the state of Washington. She encounters different people along the way, since she’s hiking this trip.

Milton: Who will you distribute the books to this year?
We are going to try to distribute the books to Hope Haven and Safe Passage, and perhaps some of the food pantries. Those places are frequented by women, and we hope to give them something inspirational, some motivation, to let know that you can survive dire circumstances. During that process, it might help them give to and inspire others.

Milton: How do you decide on where you distribute the books?
We give four or five books to a couple of different locations related to the topic of the book. Last year, Michael Perry’s book was about his experiences as an EMT, so we gave the books to local EMTs and firefighters.

Milton: What goes into planning the local World Book Night?
It’s like a garage sale; most of the time, it’s no fun putting it all together. But when the garage sale takes place, you meet people, you talk to people. And afterwards, you say that you were glad you did it. After we distribute the book, the four of us go out to eat, and we hash it all over. …We decide on where we will distribute beforehand. We distribute, and meet people there, which is the big perk for us. We tell them a little bit about the book, and we find out little things about them.

Milton: What are some of the things that you find out?
Last year, the firefighters told us how fires were put out in the past. They had these boxes in the street, and when they went off, then the fire station had a map. When the box was burning, that’s how they knew there was a fire. It was very different from how they do things today.

Milton: Last year, did you only deliver books?
We also fed them soup. The funny thing about the soup is that we knew most of the kids there. Terri had the director in her kindergarten class. …We are so grateful to have seen that. In education, you don’t always get to see the end product. You hope that you affect somebody in a positive way, but you just don’t know. Once, we were teaching them how to read, now we are giving them books and seeing them as directors.

Milton: Will you participate in World Book Night in the future?
We would like to continue next year, as well. As educators, we not only want to influence others, to inspire and motivate, but also to teach. We like to learn ourselves. We learn a lot through meeting the people we distribute the books to. You’re never too old to learn.

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