Review of The Gift of Story, by John Schu

The Gift of Story

Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life

by John Schu

Stenhouse Publishers, 2022. 170 pages.
Review written August 1, 2023, from my own copy, purchased via
Starred Review

First, a disclaimer: John Schu is a librarian I’ve met and even was briefly on a committee with. He’s also the kind of person whom once you meet, you think of him as a friend. He has Mr. Rogers’ ability of focusing on the person he’s talking with, making you feel like he cares – and you can’t help but care back. So this is a review of a book by my friend and fellow librarian, and of course I’m going to love it.

That said, this is a wonderful book for people who love children’s books and want to influence children to love children’s books. It’s a book about Story, and the wonderful ways that Story touches and enriches our lives. The book is written mainly for those who work with kids in schools, teachers and librarians and staff, with many ways for connecting children with books they will love. Here’s how John sums it up in a note at the front:

I want you to know that this is a book of my heart. In it, I’ll share thoughts, recommendations, stories, and the interactions I’ve had with thousands and thousands and thousands of students and educators over the past twenty years. And, even as I write — without the energy of a live audience providing input, guiding the conversation, and filling the room and my heart with joy — I will imagine you are sitting beside me as we take this journey together, working tirelessly to create environments in which all children interact with teachers, teacher-librarians and administrators who read to them, booktalk with them, and view them not as labels but as individuals who need to be surrounded with authentic literature, given opportunities to discuss, debate, connect, laugh, and cry over stories — and experience buckets and buckets of love.

What is Story, anyway? John Schu has been pushing children’s books in schools for years, and so he has connections with hundreds of authors. He asked authors what Story is to them, and their answers appear throughout the book. In fact, he invites people to make their own #StoryIs statements, and you can find responses by searching the #StoryIs hashtag.

He sums up where he’s going at the end of the first chapter:

Stories affirm our experiences. They challenge our comfort zone. They give us space to hibernate and pull us out of our isolation when we need to be reminded we aren’t alone. They help us evolve. They feed our human existence. In the following chapters, we’ll explore how stories can change us, inspire us, connect us to others, answer our deepest questions, and help us heal. We’ll look at ways sharing our hearts through literacy can help us celebrate, tell, define, revise, and imagine our own stories and how experiencing other people’s stories can connect us through universal truths. And we’ll do all of this while shining particular light on the important role books and libraries in our communities play to help us connect across stories.

The chapters that follow focus on particular aspects of Story: Story as Healer, Story as Inspiration, Story as Clarifier, Story as Compassion, and Story as Connector. Each chapter talks about the topic, has a section “From the Brain to the Heart” talking about what it means in lives, a section “From the Heart to the Classroom” about getting the ideas into the classroom, a section bringing in other voices on the topic, including other librarians and teachers and authors, and many recent book recommendations that tie in with the theme. And of course the whole thing is peppered with authors’ #StoryIs quotations. At the end of every chapter, there’s a place to list your favorite titles for that chapter’s focus on Story.

I was reading this book on vacation and saw my sister who’s a school psychologist. She needs this book! In fact anyone who works with kids in schools needs this book. There are so many ideas of ways to bring books into your students’ lives, so many great children’s books introduced, and inspiring reminders of how you can touch and uplift students’ hearts.

Yes, it’s also fantastic for public librarians who work with kids. You’ll get a fantastic list of books to check out and recommend, and you, too, will get ideas for ways to connect books with readers and be inspired.

This book reminds me how lucky I am to do the important and wonderful job of connecting children with books that will touch their hearts.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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