"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A literary tribute to my friend, Sheri Story

Sheri Story
I met my friend Sheri Story in August 2007 when she joined the staff at Graham-Kapowsin High School where I work as the school librarian. She was hired as an English, Reading, and Leadership teacher. Two weeks ago my friend died of breast cancer and I helped lay her to rest on a rainy October day. Since that day I keep thinking about Sheri and how much she loved literature. This is a literary tribute to a friend.

Before the 2007 school year even started, Sheri came to the library to meet me and to pick up her teaching supplies and also to find something to read for herself. We must have talked about books, though I don't remember the conversation, because she checked out a book I liked to recommend to my friends, Big Stone Gap, and its sequel, Big Cherry Holler, by Adriana Trigiani. She also checked out a book by John Grisham and another by Jodi Piccoult at the same time. Sheri loved to read. When other teachers were too exhausted to do much more than set up their classrooms, Sheri was checking out four books to read after she got home.

Within days of the start of school Sheri was back checking out story collections for her reluctant readers to peruse. Sheri believed in the power of the written word and she used and promoted the library with her students. She often brought her classes to the library to check out books, to look through poetry volumes, or to find theme-related books. She also requested carts full of library books to use in her classroom. She was very busy sharing her love of literature with her students.

That first September Sheri and I each read the book, This I Believe: the personal philosophies of remarkable people edited by Allison and Gediman, promoted by NPR. We both wrote a personal philosophy in the style of those in the book, then Sheri had her students do the same thing. It was so fun and stimulating working with Sheri on literary projects.  She was so enthusiastic about every project she encountered. She had a gift and she shared it so willingly with her students and friends.

During the summer of 2007 I read a book called Poemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Wooldridge. The book presents ideas how to channel your inner poet. I was so excited by Wooldridge's ideas I came back to school and created lesson plans to share with the English teachers. Sheri took me up on my ideas and used them for her poetry unit. Afterwards she shared with me some of the poetry booklets her students created using the ideas from Poemcrazy. Poems from their inner coyotes were my favorite.  I still remember the day when Sheri brought the student work to show me. We laughed and celebrated together over her students' creativity.

A few years later, Sheri continued her support for poetry by having all her students participate in class recitation contests for the Poetry Out Loud contest.  Poetry Out Loud is a National recitation contest which starts in the classrooms, moves on to contests at the school, region, state before one person from each state competes in the national final in Washington, D.C. Participating students have to memorize two or three poems and recite them by memory. It is a lot of work to host such a contest in a class because students today do not believe they are capable of memorization.  Sheri persevered and her students did well at the school level competition, which I coordinated.

Sheri was an omnivore when it came to digesting books. She loved them all and read from all genres. One day she came asking me for a book on dragons, another she wanted a mystery. Sheri would also finish series she started. I would recommend the first book of a series then, not long afterwards, she's drop by to see what I thought of the fifth or sixth book in that same series, a book I hadn't read.  I rarely read more than a few books in any series before I'd move on. The #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley were two series where Sheri quickly eclipsed my reading of them. She was such a voracious reader it was hard to keep up. She also wasn't a very picky reader. Once she told me she was reading a lot of books she had got for free on her Kindle. They weren't very good, she confessed, but the price was right. This memory makes me smile today.

Sheri and I worked on a project to introduce literature circles to the English classes. She and I and another English teacher friend, Christine, read and compiled groups of books on various topics for classes to use. With the library budget I would purchase four or five books of each title then teachers could assign small literature circles in their classes. Some of the books were deemed controversial so the three of us had to go before the district controversial preview committee to get them approved. On that horrifying day Sheri, Christine, and I sat holding hands under the table as we read the controversial passages aloud to the assembled committee. Taken out of context controversial passages really DO sound awful. We laughed about it later, but at the time it was a mortifying experience. Out of the process we got some really wonderful pieces of literature approved for small groups of students to read: The Kite Runner, Poisonwood Bible, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Things They Carried, among them.

One of my favorite teaching moments was shared with Sheri. In 2012 Sheri came to me for help brainstorming ideas how to help her 4th period class. The class members, as a whole, were completely unmotivated and lacked any enthusiasm for reading or literature. She wanted to do something to help ignite them. We hit upon an idea. Each of her students would read a book by the same author, Paul Volponi.  All of his books are short and cover topics of interest to teens. I was able to purchase, or round up from other schools in the district, enough books for each of her students to read. One of her students, a real troubled boy, got excited about his book and wanted to know some more information about it. Sheri encouraged the boy to write Mr. Volponi and ask him. Through this process, we were able to set up a Skype interview with Volponi and Sheri's whole 4th period class. On the day of the Skype interview we assembled in Sheri's classroom and Paul Volpoini talked to the students as if he were in the room with them guiding them to think about lots of things, encouraging them to read deeply, and to be the best persons they could be.  It was a magical moment for all of us. When the bell for the end of the period rang, no one got up to leave. That is proof of how mesmerizing the moment was. Through literature Sheri was able to impact her students' lives, and often it took creativity to do it.

At Sheri's funeral I learned a lot of things about her that I didn't know before. I learned that she retired from the US Air Force as a Chief Master Sergeant, the highest enlisted rank. I learned that she had a bunch of friends from her elementary and middle school years with whom she still kept in touch. They liked to go out and shop and always drank lemon drops (a lemony vodka drink) together. I found out she was a good cook, which shouldn't have surprised me since she did check out The Book Club Cook Book from my library. Isn't that perfect? I may not have shared any of these things with Sheri but I did share books with her. One of the last books Sheri checked out of my library was Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco, a picture book about an unlikely friendship. That was us. We may not have known each other in other ways but we were literary best friends. I will miss talking about books and poetry with her.

On one wall of the library I have this word-art quote: "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."-Jorge Luis Borge. I sure hope there is a big library in heaven. If there is, I am sure Sheri is exploring it right now, finding some new author or series to read and enjoy.

Thank you, my friend, for sharing your love of literature with me. You will be greatly missed. Rest in peace, my friend, rest in peace.
"If ever there comes a day when we can't be together, keep me in your heart- I'll stay there forever."- AA Milne


  1. What a beautiful tribute to Sheri! You made me feel like I really knew her. I would have very much liked her and her passion for books and literature. A terrible loss. xoxo

    1. Thanks, Margaret. Sheri was a wonderful person who had the uncanny ability to make everyone think they were her best friend. She was a gift to us all and will be greatly missed.

  2. Ms. Bennett,

    I can't help but cry when I read this, and I keep reading this. I graduated 2012, and Ms. Story was my advisor. I was with her for three years. The first thing I remember about Ms. Story was when I gave her my summer reading log. I had a good 40 books on it, and I mention how I had lost track so a lot hadn't made it on the list. The way her eyes lit up instantly drew me to her. From then on, for three years straight we talked about books; she suggested books to me, I suggested some to her. I read like crazy and learned so much for her. I already had a passion for reading and she made sure to fan that flame. I'm so sad to hear of her passing and send my condolences to her family and friends.
    Miss you and GK, Ms. Bennett.
    Keira Pryor

    1. Keira, it is lovely to hear from you. What are you doing? Are you still reading like crazy? It makes my heart sing to think about you and Mr. Story sharing good book recommendations. She was such a gem. We all miss her like crazy. Visit my blog often if you want to keep on in the books I am reading.

  3. Today, November 14, 2015, I received a message from Steve Story, Sheri's husband. It is a beautiful tribute to his wife and his best friend, Sheri. I asked Steve if I could post his message here and he said yes. This beautiful tribute brought tears to both mine and my husband's eyes. Please read on...

    Hi Anne.
    I want to say how much your tribute to Sheri moved me to overwhelming tears and pride. I had the pleasure joy and opportunity to live with such a dynamic person for 32 years. She never disappointed me and always amazed me every day how she carried on without anyone knowing she had terminal cancer.
    Her thirst for books was only one of her many hobbies she conquered. She could read books make jams make soap and even work on calligraphy at the same time. She enjoyed crafts and sharing her work with others. She raised an amazing family and always ensured we had everything to be successful.
    I met Sheri in 83 in the Air Force. We spent over 18 years together traveling the world and raising our family. We retired from the service in the same ceremony. We were linked forever. We were best friends and soulmates. The service taught us many things one being nothing was too difficult that could not be overcome by tenacity, thought and vision to see a better outcome.
    Sheri undoubtedly changed my life 32 years ago and I know she changed lives every day. I, too. never got to have that last conversation about a book, a trip or even a recipe but I was the one who held her as she took her last breath and I will forever remember my last words to her was, “I Love you Forever. Be safe and know we are better because of you. Good bye, my love, for now because I know we will see each other again.”
    Anne, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Sheri will forever live in all of us who had the opportunity to know her. She loved, laughed, and lived a life that was a genuine reflection of who she was inside and out. My family hurts every day and I hurt even a bit deeper but tributes like yours helps.
    Thank you,
    Steve Story

  4. From Ron Story, Sheri's brother-in-law---

    Ron Story ·( Friends with Sheri Story)
    I loved reading this and gaining more insight on someone I knew so long. This is another illustratiion of her thirst for learning and her continuing to expand her horizons. It also showed her dedication to her teaching profession. Teachers who struggle with engaging their kids in the subject matter could learn from her example.Find something to connect with them at their level. Help them to enjoy learning something new. Sheri was truly a unique person . I wish I could spend time with her now laying by a beach or a pool talking about the book she is reading, I always thought there would be time!

  5. From Carl Browning ·( Friends with Sheri Story)

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful tribute with us. While reading it, a thought came to me... How ironic that the woman who loved books and taught her students to love them as well... the girl I knew in school as Sheri Harris... would meet, marry and take the last name of the love of her life and become "Mrs. Story." Rest in peace

  6. From Meribeth Bergsma Rowe ·( Friends with Sheri Story)---

    Thank you for sharing these moments in Sheri's career with all of us. Sheri has always been a great consumer of books. Her passion for literature was contagious and now she has inspired hundreds of students to read into the future...the gift of a lifetime! What a legacy!

  7. From Margr├ęt Triple M ·( Friends with Sheri Story)---

    Thank you again for writing a beautiful tribute to
    Sheri. She was truly an amazing person. Steve words were beyond beautiful. I am blessed to have the Story family in my life, I miss Sheri so much.


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