Seattle School Librarian Honored

Written by Stacey Andell for Schools K-12

There was a group of children in one of the Seattle schools who came up with an idea. They wanted to turn sad things into happy things, find the positive in the negative. The idea came about because when you are in the third or fourth grade, life can be sweet one moment, stale candy the next. One of the girls in the group, Amy, who just turned 11, had a beloved pet bunny named Roger who died. The loss still smarts.Through their informal club, Amy and her school pals -- Jasmine, Chloe, Hailey, Annie, Madi and Naomi -- would try to turn frowns upside down. The only question was how.

The children thought about it. They decided that books would become their tool for making a difference. School had deepened their love of books. They respected the power of words on the printed page -- no small feat in a television age. Books could offer stories with powerful messages, they knew, and such messages could inspire. The girls asked people in their neighborhoods as well as the parents of classmates to donate toasters, baby toys and whatever they could for a big garage sale the first week of June. They raised $400.

The girls bought 36 books. They already had a home for them inside their elementary school library, where one wall features a poster from the 1963 March on Washington and another bears a photo of the late Coretta Scott King. Inspired by a school librarian, they worked as a team toward a goal. 

It is easy to miss such learning that occurs regularly in the public schools. Budget woes, school closures and scandals involving high school hoops teams tend to make for juicier headlines. The book club is one of those quiet stories that would have remained in the dark had something bad not happened. A month ago, Mary Cooper and her daughter Susanna Stodden went for a hike in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. They were found shot to death in a double slaying that convulsed the region.

The unsolved murders particularly hit home for the children at Decatur AEII Elementary School in North Seattle because Cooper was their librarian, the keeper of their stories, a smiling inspirer of their dreams. "Mary in the Library" -- as children sweetly christened her -- transformed an ordinary place into an extraordinary space.

On a recent afternoon the school’s library was summertime silent. Atop a wood table sat a cardboard box that held three dozen books, including one about brainy bunnies and another about that mischievous cooking pot. These were books -- along with "Peter and the Starcatchers" and others -- that Cooper had on her wish list.

Her wish came true thanks to Amy, Jasmine, Chloe, Hailey, Annie, Madi and Naomi -- along with everyone who pitched in to help these Decatur students. After the unthinkable happened, the girls got together. They crafted designs for a bookplate that will go inside each of the new books before school starts. The plate has a sun in one corner, a moon in another. It shows an open book with its front and back covers in view. One cover says "Mary" and the other says "Cooper."  Down the spine are three words: "In Memory Of. Such a worthy tribute is one way a group of dedicated children is forging lasting good out of a lingering horror.