Spring and Sabbaticals

Here's Cleebo-in-Spring. Cleebo is on a perennial sabbatical.

I remember when I first heard the word sabbatical and wondered what it meant. It had the most inviting ring to it, with those double B's and all those A's. The word was caressed, like a lover, in academic circles, circles I longed to ring with my presence, as I had seen "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" as a teenager, and ever-after had drifted on a cloud of wanting to belong inside an ivy-covered university where I walked from my ivy-covered cottage on the tree-lined avenue near the ivy-covered building where I taught perfect students some perfect text in a perfect world and died beloved.

I didn't realize that "sabbatical" meant taking a break from all that. When I was 17, I couldn't imagine what one would do without the soul-filling rhythms of a classroom full of sunshine and students. Hahahahaha!

I know. I was weird. But, was I? I was such a romantic; a romantic who has grown into a pragmatist. I still love teaching, but I understand those rhythms better now; heck, I understand my own rhythms better, too, and I understand the meaning and value of sabbatical. I'm going to take one.

Oh, you won't be shed of me. I'm right here.

I'm going to be writing away and you're going to hear about it, as I have questions for you -- I've already got a list going. Here's one: Movies about the 1960s... what are your favorites? Since summer, I have been watching documentaries (reviews to come) and movies and reading book after book (what do you recommend?), and I have amassed a bookshelf of material I'm pulling from as I begin a focused year of writing, starting June 1.

But more on this later. I want to talk, too, at some point, about what sabbatical means in terms of what we let go. If I let go of my teaching for a year, will I go back to it? What will the year off bring me? And will I discover, as I have been lately suspecting, that I'm not really a teacher at all? More to come on all this.
In the meantime, here are some teachers, for sure. I wish I had that piece of paper with their neatly written names on it so I could mention them here by name, but I'm in Arkansas, about to spend two days in schools, and my list of names, all spelled properly, is at home in Atlanta, so let me introduce you, en masse, to some of the Polk County teachers extraordinaire, who came to hear me speak in Lakeland, Florida last week. We had us a little love fest last week, yes we did, and I felt lucky to be with those 200 or so teachers who had come out on a school night to be together and talk shop and listen to me talk about the power of story. They inspired me. They filled my heart with sunshine! I'll bet their classrooms are full of sunshine as well.

Here are Ruth, Kelly, and Priscilla, officers of the Polk County Reading Association. Years ago, Polk County had a reading association, and then they didn't, and now they do again, thanks to these folks' efforts, and thanks, too, to the enthusiastic support of teachers who know a good thing when they see one.

Thanks, too, to Harcourt Educational, who brought me to Polk County and who are lending their support to Polk County teachers.

We had FREEDOM SUMMER cake, and RUBY LAVENDER cake, and we didn't have rubber chicken.

I remember Cathy's name -- she used to live in D.C., too - we had similar stories to share about growing up in the Sixties during the Cuban Missile Crisis time and the dawning of the Great Society and the careening times of the Civil Rights Movement and more. All these moments are finding their way into the Sixties trilogy I am writing.

Marie took me by surprise. For a moment I thought I was seeing my mother, who died in 2003 -- my mother's name was Marie, too.

I am privileged, I know. I have the opportunity to travel and speak and meet people I would never otherwise meet, romantics and pragmatists alike, teachers who are doing good work in the world with children, who make a difference every day in the classroom.

I get to spend the next two days in schools working with some of those teachers and their students, singing ONE WIDE SKY with first and second graders, dancing with kindergarteners, writing with fourth graders, laughing with third graders, getting serious with fifth graders, asking questions, coaxing answers, being present, and learning more than I teach.

In the moment, I love this work. It has been the bulk of my living in the past seven years since I began publishing books for children. And it has given me so much that has nothing to do with making a living and everything to do with becoming a whole person. I have watched myself grow exponentially as a teacher and a human being.

I've watched myself grow older and heavier and wear out a bit, too, on the road. I'm longing for some concentrated time to pull myself back into myself for a while.

I have grown as a writer as well, in these past seven years. My writing is beginning to provide for me in ways that demand I pay attention. And I want to pay attention, for words are delicious -- words like sabbatical, pragmatic, romantic, the Sixties, Cleebo, publishing, time, family, warmth, love, spring.

Sometimes I wonder if I am really a teacher, or if I am just a pretender to that sun-shiny throne. But what I do know is that I am a writer. Stories are where I live. They are life-blood to me. And I have stories that are waiting on me now, waiting for me to be home for long days and long months, stories that are pragmatic in their demands.

I have pansies to plant and characters to develop and mayhem to create and danger to navigate and laughter to listen to and heartbreak to discover and secrets to unfold from their hidden places in my mind and heart. I have stories to write. As do you. This is my perennial theme, yes? We each have stories to tell, and they belong to us in the way that pansies belong to the earth.

Off to work I go. Time to tell my story. Time to listen to yours as well. I'm all ears.


  1. Thank you for this blog, Deborah. As an elementary librarian, I love your children's books, but as a grownup person, I love your blog!

  2. Movies about the sixties? The Graduate captured something vitally important and feels important still. The Big Chill, though set in the 80s, is about the 60s--so is The return of the Seacaucus Seven. John Waters' Hairspray is one of the best accounts of the early sixties ever put to film--the later musical has its charms, but the 1988 original is definitive.

    Lookin' good in those pictures, Deb!

  3. Good post and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you on your information.


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