Welcome to Day Two of the EMU’s Debuts launch party for Luke Reynolds and his charming new middle grade novel, The Looney Experiment. If you haven’t already snagged a copy of the book for yourself, or for the nearest young reader in your life, I’m pretty sure you will want to by the end of this launch week. Yesterday, Megan introduced some of the looney things we’ve done in our pasts. Today, we’re stepping into the shoes of Atticus, the protagonist of The Looney Experiment, and to the teacher who impacted his life so profoundly, Mr. Looney. We’ve blown the cobwebs out of our memory noggins to reflect on the teachers who helped to shape each of us.
Ms. McCauley was my third-grade teacher. She was the no-smiles type of teacher who left a lasting imprint on my life. You see, I was a slow-as-molasses type of reader when I was little. So slow that it made reading not fun. But Ms. McCauley realized something was wrong. Turned out, only my right eye read. The left one did nothing, causing the whole reading process to slow way way down. She taught me how to strengthen my eye, my reading and ultimately, my love for books. Thank you, Ms. McCauley! Elly Swartz
My first through third grade teacher, Mrs. Knight, is definitely the teacher who sparked my creativity. As long as I did my homework in math and science, she would let me sit at my desk and write stories until my fingers fell off. Mrs. Knight even staged readings in “The Circle” (which was actually a square and still to this day gets me in an Inception-like rabbit hole of “what in the heck did this misnomer mean?!?!”), and kept our books in the classroom library. I will forever remember Mrs. Knight, and wouldn’t be here today without her. Jason Gallaher
My favorite teachers were both band teachers: Mr. Jacobus in junior high and Mr. Duffer in high school. Mr. Jacobus helped me develop a love and appreciation for music. With his encouragement I discovered a drive to set goals and improve as a musician. In high school, Mr. Duffer exposed us to an impressive range of composers and taught us to dream big. Under his guidance we won several competitions and learned not to be afraid of a challenge. I will always be grateful for the incredible gift of music they nurtured. It continues to shape my life in unexpected ways. Case in point: those early band days are providing inspiration for my current work-in-progress! Christine Hayes
Teachers often told me that I was good at writing, but I never really felt like I had any particular talent for it. Writing finally came alive for me in middle school when—believe it or not—we got to diagram sentences! Our teacher, Mrs. Lysdahl, showed me that language could be logical and fit together like pieces of a puzzle as well as being beautiful and creative. It delighted me that it could be both of those things at once, and the exercise appealed to both sides of my brain. I loved finding particularly beautiful and/or powerful sentences and then analyzing them, taking them apart to see what made them tick. It somehow brought the “hard” part—being creative—back down to earth for me, and made it seem less like a magical talent that you either had or didn’t have and more like a skill that I could really master if I worked hard enough. Laurie Ann Thompson
Mr. Arkle taught 12th-grade honors English and blew my mind when he assigned us an E-Prime essay. At that age, I already loved to write, but I always did it quickly, with abandon. E-Prime demanded that I choose each word with care. It opened my eyes to the power of being deliberate. It also taught me what it meant to edit; I spent hours searching through that paper and eliminating tiny slips and weaknesses. Two decades later, that assignment and its lessons remain vivid in my writing mind. Thank you, Mr. Arkle. Megan Morrison
Two teachers come immediately to mind. And they are husband and wife! Scott Kalter and Sydney Long. Scott was my 6th grade teacher in a tiny 4 room schoolhouse. His energy and passion were anything but tiny though. As an adult looking back, I think what he taught me more than anything was the art of active listening: Scott’s focus on each student, and his genuine interest in what each of us was thinking (and hoping and fearing) made all of us feel…real. I know he made me feel that way—like I was a vital part of a community; like I mattered as a unique individual but had a necessary place, too, in the whole. Sydney was my junior high and high school chorus teacher. Her energy and passion were enormous too. And as an adult looking back on my time with her, I think what she began to instill in me was a work ethic. In specific, she nurtured a process that asked her students to trust that hard work, constant practice, and always striving for better would result in, not only a stellar product, but a magical one.
It took me a long time to fully take in Scott and Syd’s lessons, but in hindsight I truly think they planted critical seeds in me. They also became dear friends, who helped me through some rough times in my young adult life and who, I am grateful to say, officiated at my wedding. They are a critical part of my life today, and I love them both. Tam Smith
In 3rd grade my teacher Mrs. Weber had us all write poems. She didn’t tell me, but she sent mine into the town newspaper…and they published it. I can still see my mom’s face, and feel the surge of happy surprise. And the pride. And I resolved to become a writer. Thank you, Mrs. Weber!!! Janet Fox
I feared math class with all my heart. Teachers tried, but I was frozen. In 6th grade, my classmates and I were tested for an advanced algebra class. I passed. I was tested again. I passed again. Here’s why: There weren’t any numbers on the test. If A equals B and B equals C, then… I had no problem with it. When algebra started, I could barely keep my head above water. As friends aced tests, I struggled. Finally, my teacher had had enough. The night before a big test, she kept me after school and worked for hours with me until I could solve the equations.
The day after the test, my teacher, as was her custom, made the class guess who got the highest score. Name after name of the best math students went by. Finally, she tossed the test on my desk and said, “It was Hayley.”
We both triumphed that day. It wasn’t the end of my math troubles, but it did crack the ice of my fear a little. I could no longer believe that understanding was impossible. My teacher, Miss Kalogeris, did that. Hayley Barrett
Without a doubt, my favorite and most inspiring teacher was my fifth grade teacher, Miss Mellion! She was an artist, fresh out of college, and full of energy. Every month we’d have an artist of the month featured, like Winslow Homer, or Mary Cassat, or Degas, and we’d learn about their lives and art. Her mother was also a teacher in CT, so we had a penpal program, and we even got to meet our penpals one time on a field trip to a museum. She was also a vegetarian, and taught us all about nutrition, and the food groups, and although I didn’t become a vegetarian until many years later, she definitely influenced me. I recently found her address, and am planning to write to her. I hope she still lives there since I’d love to hear from her! She was very encouraging about my writing, and I think she’d be proud to know that I’m now an author too. Maria Gianferrari
My fondest teacher memories can be traced to two special educators. When I was in fourth grade, Mrs. Gentry took a special interest in me. Or, rather, she made me feel special. While I was an average student in general, I stood out in Language Arts, and I was her star speller. I collected the most gold stars for winning the classroom spelling bees. Despite my shyness, she encouraged me to compete on the school’s UIL spelling and poetry teams, which completely converted me to Language Arts geek.
My sophomore English teacher, Mrs. P., was equally important. She insisted that we write in journals every day, which became therapeutic for me during some tough teen times. Somehow she recognized a spark in my writing, and was always encouraging me to think bigger and to do more. It’s probably too late to track her down, but I would love for her to know that I took her advice. Donna Janell Bowman
Bravo to Mr. Looney, who inspired Atticus! And Bravo to all teachers around the world.
What you do matters!
Buy a copy of The Looney Experiment from your favorite independent book store, or consider one of these fine merchants: