February 28, 2019
by Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School
It’s true. I am a voracious reader. Throughout my life, I have loved books and can think of few greater pleasures than a good one. Reading fueled my imagination and took me to places I could have never visited. Getting lost in a book and losing track of time is pure joy. For these reasons and many more, the MPA Book Festival, produced by our incredible Parents Association, is one of my favorite MPA traditions. The Book Festival began in April 2000. It was started by the collaborative efforts of parents of alumni Elaine Johnson and Karla Myers, and the library staff. It was also the year MPA librarian Nancy Lage brought in Mary Grand Pre, the illustrator of the American version of “Harry Potter.” Part celebration and part fundraiser for the library, the Book Festival symbolizes so much of what is special about our community.
When I was a child, the library was my favorite place. In the small town I grew up in, the library was an old “mansion” in the center of town. It was warm and comforting, a bit mysterious, and had a wonderful smell. It was my happy place. In college, my use of a library changed dramatically. It served more of a social purpose than an academic one. One of my first experiences of social justice advocacy was participating in a sit in at the college library over its unjust policy banning soft drinks. (Ah, youthful ignorance.) During my graduate work, I practically lived in the library. Buried amidst the stacks, I once more found my happy place.
Reading is at the heart of an MPA education. It is not unusual to see a number of students reading on their way into school in the morning. As I walk back to my office in the morning after greeting students at the front entrance, I encounter Lower School students scurrying from the classroom to the library pulling behind them a milkcrate filled with all the books the class is returning. When asked why they love to read, students in fourth grade replied:
- “It’s like you can jump into a new world.” -Audrey
- “A book captures me and brings me to a new world.” -Julia
- “It relaxes me.” -Stella
- “That’s where I learn new things.” -Josh
- “A book is one place where anything is possible.” -Téa
- “It inspires me to try new things.” -Evie
- “The words speak to me and I can see emotions in the characters.” -Josie
One of the reasons students pick up on the joy of reading is that they are inspired by their teachers. Spanish teacher Martha Costellanos loves to read for many reasons, “but the top factor is because reading takes me to unbelievable places to marvel, to explore, to relax, to wonder, to confront my inner thoughts, to overcome my insecurities or affirm my beliefs, to transport me to peaceful places, and to help me believe one more time in the goodness of creation and the human race.” For art teacher Elizabeth Flinsch, “reading provides a window into perspectives different from my own. This glimpse affords me the opportunity to have more compassion for people of all walks of life, even those whose viewpoints do not align with mine. I read to better understand the world around us with the hope of building a future that includes the stories and histories of all people.”
I am thrilled with the prospect of creating a new, enhanced library at the heart of the school. Together, We Dream: The Campaign for MPA will give MPA students the tools, experiences, and environments they need to succeed. While retaining the spirit and warmth of our current space, the new library will inspire readers throughout our community, provide opportunities to enhance academic exploration, and foster collaborative learning. Our fourth graders shared some of what excites them about the new library including more space to read, bright spaces that will let them step into the book’s world, and good “snuggle spaces.”
It appears to me that as a society, the importance of reading has diminished, and we have lost sight of why libraries are important and the integral purpose they serve in our communities. With big bookstores like Barnes and Noble and the behemoth Amazon, books are ubiquitous. The internet seems to have replaced the role of libraries as the repository and symbol of knowledge and learning. Not at MPA. In the words of teacher and International Student program coordinator, Sarah McFarland, “Books bring knowledge; libraries allow that knowledge to be accessed by everyone. Books bring joy and pleasure; libraries are conduits for that joy. Books bring the experiences of humanity, events of the world, and all avenues of possibilities into our homes; libraries place them into our hands.”