Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thank You, Mr. Falker: The Story of John Richardson

OK. So I'm supposed to be posting in the early morning (am), but I'm a stepmom now. Today (the first day of school for my deep sleeping teenage stepson), I learned that I either need to awake HOURS earlier to work or just face the fact that waking a teenage boy is an early morning job all by itself. My husband and I had a coffee-in-the- sunroom conference, and then I received explicit instruction and modeling on how to wake our son.

"I need to see your feet on the floor. Then I need to hear the shower running...... I need to see your feet on the floor and hear the shower running!..... I NEED TO SEE YOUR FEET ON THE FLOOR AND HEEEEEAAAARRRR THE SHOOOOWWWEERRRR RUNNNIIINNGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!"

Feet just padded down the hall. The shower is running. YAY!

Yesterday was the start of a great event, with lots of amazing blogging friends sharing their top ten favorite picture books. Thanks to Cathy and Mandy for making the day possible for us all.
Today I begin with the first story of my ten favorite books.
Thank You, Mr. Falker: The Story of John Richardson

The story begins in my third grade classroom in Birmingham, AL. John, a favorite custodian and friend to all the Corgill Kids, stopped by every day to empty the trash, refill the paper towel dispenser, and soak in a bit of reading workshop. One day John was browsing the picture book shelves with several third graders, and picked up the book, Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. I love everything Patricia Polacco, and told John he had chosen one of my favorites....but I didn't share what the story was about. He asked if he could take the book home to read, and of course, I was happy that he would be reading this book to his children and grandchildren.

Days passed and I had forgotten that John borrowed the book. He still continued to visit us every day, and he always asked the children about their reading and their book choices.
On one of those ordinary reading workshop days weeks later, John brought the book back and asked if he could speak to me privately. He had Thank You Mr. Falker in his hand as he spoke.

"I have a secret to tell you, Ann Marie. I can't read. Will you be my Mr. Falker?"

Thinking for weeks now that this man had been reading this book to his grandchildren and enjoying it at home, I was stunned. I learned that John, this kind, hardworking man in his mid-sixties, couldn't read and had gone through his entire life pretending. He made it through ninth grade without a single teacher learning his secret. He worked an entire career in a factory without a single person knowing his secret. And now, he was working in our school, a place full of readers--a place that called him to be a reader too.
I learned later that John had his wife read the book to him at home. It was simply a miracle that he chose Thank You, Mr. Falker from our shelves.

From that day forward, John and I met in the early morning hours before school and during the summer learning to read. We read books together that John later read to his favorite groups of kindergarten students. We read books together that John would then share with my students in our reading workshop and morning meeting times. Soon after, John began to write too in his shiny blue writer's notebook. Poetry became a favorite of his, and we read and wrote lots of poetry on those mornings together.

I’m happy to say that because of Patricia Polacco'sThank You, Mr. Falker and two years of early morning reading workshops, head custodian, John Richardson, and I met to read, write, and talk---and my now 70 year old friend knows to read and write for the first time in his life.

John now speaks at his church and reads scripture to the congregation, shares his struggle (and triumph!) in literacy with groups in the community, is still invited to read to classes of students—and is still writing poetry! In fact, I have a framed copy of one of his first poems, “The Great Red Bird”.
I’d say it’s a “freeing” piece of work, about a little bird returning to his nest and learning to fly.

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain, Or help a fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.” --Emily Dickinson

To the possibilities of this new day.....


  1. So, glad that you shared this story behind your choice with us. This story brought tears to my eyes, enduring.

  2. Wow. Everything about this story is incredible. Thanks for sharing.

  3. This story took my breath away, and brought some tears. What an amazing story, and I especially loved the ending.

  4. This is a story that all teachers need to read before the school year starts-so many hidden secrets in our classrooms. Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. This story gave me goosebumps. And then made me cry. Thank you for reminding me why I teach.

  6. Tears are running down my face, too. That he picked up THAT book. And then was brave enough to tell you his secret. And you had time for him. Of course, you had time for him. And you gave him the world.


  7. This is a touching story on all levels, but to think how John must have felt all those years... Kudos to you John for your determination and willingness to learn at all ages! I would love to have you read to my first graders!