SliceOfLifeLogoRecently our third-grade class celebrated a student’s birthday, As is our tradition, the student’s parent came to read to our class. This is always one of my favorite times. What’s not to like? I’m on the audience side of the read aloud, and I often discover books that are new to me.

On this particular morning, I was treated to both benefits again. As Sam’s mom (name changed) pulled out the books Sam had chosen, she pointed out the one with Sam’s picture on the front and said, “We brought Sam’s favorite book. It’s about Sam’s favorite topic!” I love the way we all smiled knowingly. There was no bragging quality to it. We collectively smiled because we understood. Of course the “All About Me” Shutterfly-style photo book would be Sam’s favorite. Don’t we all like things that are especially for and about us?

I thought Sam’s mom would flip through a few pages and then move on to the other book she had brought. Instead, she began on the first page and continued flipping pages, telling the stories behind the pictures.

These are pictures of when Sam was born. This is when Sam came home from the hospital. This was Sam’s favorite thing to do: sucking a thumb. This is Sam when…

I was compelled to take picture after picture of Sam’s mom telling the stories of the each family photo. Why? Because of what was happening all around the room. Sam’s mom held the book while Sam, and Sam’s younger sibling, who joined us for the birthday read aloud, were leaning in, periodically exclaiming and pointing, “Oh! That’s the time when…” The rest of the class was riveted as well. Necks were stretched to see the pictures, and smiles and nods accompanied many of the stories.

You might think that a photo book and oral stories of one student’s life would bore a class of wiggly third graders, but evidence to the contrary, these stories held our rapt attention. My theory on why? Because Sam is one of us, so Sam matters to us, and because Sam’s stories are also our own stories. We can relate to the birth stories, and the holiday stories, and the friendship stories, and the family trip stories. We can relate to the stories.

What a powerful opportunity to see the power our personal stories can have on any audience of readers and writers. Makes me wonder how I will capitalize on that power even more!

As this mom left, I thanked her for sharing the book, and told her what I’d observed, promising pictures of those precious moments. In our conversation she pointed out that there is another special aspect to a photo book of memories, and the accompanying oral histories: “They help you remember and they keep the stories alive.”

So true! Isn’t that the reason we write and read?