Bellingham – Books for Alderwood Students

A chance meeting leads to books for Alderwood students.

It was a journey that led to a chance encounter and culminated in a most serendipitous ending. It sounds like the making of a great novel, but in this incredible true story, it’s exactly what happened this past fall when two people seated next to each other on a Denver to Bellingham flight started chatting. The conversation turned to books, and then to Bellingham Public Schools, and finally to a new program of Assistance League of Bellingham.

The two people involved were retired Bellingham Public Schools (BPS) staff member Paula Friedman, who used to work in the Bellingham High School library, and current BPS staff member Sarah Engel, who works as a paraeducator in the Alderwood Elementary School library.

Engel shared with Friedman that the school was holding a “meet the author” event with Lauren Tarshis, author of the popular “I Survived” historical fiction series. She also mentioned that she and the school’s library media specialist Sara Hanes along with their principal Micah Smith had a pipedream to purchase a personal copy of a Tarshis book for every third, fourth and fifth grader who would attend the author event. The library was already planning on buying a few of the books for each classroom, but purchasing one per student would cost in the hundreds of dollars.

Upon her return to Bellingham, Friedman, who volunteers with Assistance League of Bellingham, shared the encounter with Nanci Zander, the chair of the new Books and Beyond Program. It was determined that a donation to help Alderwood reach their dream goal was a “good fit” for the book program.

What eventually developed from the innocuous conversation on the DEN to BLI plane ride was a monetary donation totaling $625 from Assistance League of Bellingham to the school. With the new funds, Alderwood Elementary was able to purchase personal copies of “I Survived” books for approximately 122 students, six classrooms of students who would be attending the author event.

At the October author event, several Books and Beyond members attended to help pass out books to students. According to chairperson Zander, “Books and Beyond was very excited about this unusual coincidence that joined Assistance League with Alderwood Elementary.”

“It was a great event and we are so thankful to Assistance League of Bellingham for their generous donation, ” Hanes shared. “We were able to purchase all third, fourth and fifth grade students and teachers a copy of the author’s latest book.”

Hanes also reported that Village Books, the sponsor of the visit, arranged for author Tarshis to sign sticker bookplates so that the school could then put them inside each copy of the book.

Student engagement with reading and writing

A few Alderwood third graders were thrilled to talk about the book I Survived the Wellington Avalanche, 1910. The story is based on the deadliest avalanche on United States soil that occurred near Stevens Pass on March 1, 1910. The snow crashed down and swept two trains off the railroad tracks into a deep canyon. After this disaster, new plans were made for safer train travel in high mountain areas.

After a quick summary of this story where the events that transpired are real but characters like Jamie and Violet are made up, the students shared a map of the Cascades found in the book and showed exactly where the avalanche happened. They also shared some exciting fictional plot twists about diamonds and smuggling as told in the book.

In the middle of the discussion about the book, several of the students jumped up to re-enact key moments and illustrations in the book such as running from the avalanche.

Some students in this group have read three or more of the books in the I Survived series and one even said they read over 10, sharing that she “has been reading them all last year and this year.” The I Survived book set in 2018 about the California wildfires was especially interesting to students since they marveled that they were actually alive already when it took place.

About meeting the author: “She was really nice.”

About writing: “I like writing. My sister is a writer. She’s 12.”

If you could write anything what would you write about: “I’d like to write fantasy books.”  “I’d write about animals because I’m really into animals.”

Alderwood’s third grade teacher Natalia Rios shared that many of her students wanted to be a part of this little interview. “Lots of kids were super impacted by the author visit to Alderwood in such a positive way,” she said.

“One student literally started writing after the Tarshis visit, without any concern, because she could picture herself as an author after the visit. It was so inspiring.”