“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” - Zora Neale Hurston
Last week, author Kate Messner addressed the Lower and Middle Schools. She began each of her talks with a picture of herself, age 10, in her footie pajamas with something in her hand. Messner told students that at the age of ten, she published her first book. Yes! Published! It was a book about sharks, with a cover she designed herself, filled with facts she learned from books checked out at the library—and it was properly bound with a stapler and shelved with a magnet attached to her refrigerator. Any time a guest visited the Messner home, she promptly took their coats, welcomed them, and led them to her book on the fridge. She was so proud. And so were her parents, who proudly displayed her book in the kitchen. They clearly supported and encouraged her curiosity.
Kate Messner told students that her curious mind did not stop there. Many of Messner’s books revolve around research. Her Ranger in Time series follows a golden retriever that time travels to help people. She has visited Italy, France, and San Francisco, to name a few locations, for that series alone. But her research does not always need a trip! Messner researched her book about Ranger going to Antarctica using two diaries by men who had taken the same journey that Ranger was taking. One of those men survived; one did not. Messner lives in upstate New York, near Dannemora, the site of the 2015 prison escape and subsequent 22-day manhunt. During the manhunt, she spent her days at a local coffee shop, interviewing people and listening to their conversations as locals, policemen, and media filled their coffee cups and grabbed snacks. Her research in this case, took the form of observation and listening, not reading or traveling.
Students come into my libraries every day with curiosity. What’s for lunch? When is the Philadelphia trip? Why do tadpoles have gills? What are gills? What does the “D” in D-Day stand for? I could google it on my phone and give them the answer—or I can show them how to find the answers. As librarians, we strive to help our students find the answers. Through teaching research skills and encouraging curiosity, we are equipping our students to be information literate. The skills they have today will be applied to different subjects tomorrow and will be built upon through their years in our Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools. As they learn to ask questions, they will learn how to find sources, evaluate those sources, take notes, turn that information into a product (paper, PowerPoint, presentation), then evaluate that product to make sure that it meets the requirements—or answers their question. And then, they will be on their way to being information- literate students.
Our visit with Kate Messner sparked many questions. Some students want to read her books; some students were curious about what an author does and how much money an author makes; some students made text-to-self connections. Kate answered their questions and encouraged their curiosity. She talked about being a writer, writing, visiting schools, and the animals she sees on her winter walks through the woods. She served as their primary source this week. Think about how you can encourage curiosity in your home and remember that all of those questions from our children—at the dinner table, in the car, just before bedtime—are just their way of figuring out this amazing world.