Story by S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) — Sometimes, a bishop’s busy schedule is advantageous.
When Bishop James Conley was trying to schedule a time to celebrate North American Martyrs’ parish and school’s feast day Oct. 19, there was one conflict after another. He finally settled on Friday, Oct. 21, but that meant that he’d have to bring along a special guest: award-winning children’s author Clare Vanderpool.
Mrs. Vanderpool, a longtime friend of the bishop’s, was going to be in Lincoln for the second annual “Bishop’s Book Club.” The brunch enables junior high students who participate in Page One reading clubs to meet and interact with a published author.
As Mrs. Vanderpool was arriving early from Wichita, Kan., where she grew up and where Bishop Conley served as her pastor before being ordained a bishop, to enjoy catching up with the bishop before Saturday’s brunch, he would either have to bring her along for North American Martyrs School’s feast day Mass, or let her fend for herself.
“He called me up and asked, ‘How would you like her to talk to the kids at your school?’” recalled the principal, Sister Janelle Buettner, M.S. (Click here for photos from Mass)
“Any time you have an opportunity to bring somebody in who is unique or who has a unique experience such as being a Newberry author, you give the kids a chance to know that these are real people—you don’t have to be anybody extraordinary to become something amazing.”
Sister Janelle also appreciated the fact that her students would be able to meet a successful person who is unapologetically Catholic.
“Clare Vanderpool has been able to promote the values of Christ in the midst of everything,” Sister Janelle said. “It’s the Catholic side to a success story. The kids are learning you can be Catholic, you can be good, and you can be successful. But you do have to work for it.”
The students prepared for Mrs. Vanderpool’s visit by reading her novel, “Navigating Early” in class. This book received a Michael L. Printz Honor, which recognizes the best writing in young adult literature, among numerous other accolades.
Sister Janelle said the students really enjoyed “Navigating Early,” which is an odyssey-like adventure featuring two rather mismatched boys on the Appalachian Trail.
When Vanderpool came with Bishop Conley, the students “were mesmerized,” Sister Janelle reported.
They enjoyed the author’s PowerPoint presentation – which featured more than one photo of the bishop as a child! – and listened attentively as she explained how her personal life experiences made their way into her books.
Vanderpool also encouraged them to start employing the skills she’s found helpful as an author, without waiting until they grow up.
“She told them, ‘I couldn’t be an author if I didn’t reflect, if I didn’t appreciate what was in front of me, if I didn’t remember things, if I didn’t experience things in the moment,’” quoted Sister Janelle. “She basically told them, ‘Start living your life now.’”
“Reading,” Vanderpool said in an interview with the Register, “especially in those early years of childhood and adolescence, is so important in shaping who we are and who we become...Once a child settles into a good book, the mind and heart become open to great wonder and discovery in a unique and powerful way.”
After Vanderpool’s talk, the students were invited to ask her questions. Sister Janelle said questions ranged from wondering how Mrs. Vanderpool named her characters, to whether the characters where based on real people.
Some of the children brought their beloved copies of “Navigating Early” for Vanderpool to sign. It was an exciting day for the students.
Sister Janelle said the message that the students received from Bishop Conley and Vanderpool was, “Even if you don’t want to be an author, you need to be a reader.”
That’s a philosophy that is common among diocesan schools, and one that Sister Janelle promotes as principal. Through reading comes an understanding of beauty, truth and culture.
The following day, members of North American Martyrs School’s Page One team were among the 60 or so junior high students who got to enjoy brunch with the bishop and Mrs. Vanderpool at the Bishop’s Book Club.
“I hope we can use that to encourage more kids to be part of Page One,” Sister Janelle said. She sees a lot of value in the club, which is a literacy program dedicated to providing students with literature, invigorating activities and an environment that encourages reading.
“It’s a great way to encourage the arts and a great way to encourage learning,” she said.
In the meantime, the upper classmen of North American Martyrs School are now engrossed in “Moon Over Manifest,” Vanderpool’s Newberry Award-winning saga about a Depression-era girl sent to live in what she calls a “dried-up town” for the summer.
For more information about Vanderpool and her novels, visit www.clarevanderpool.com.