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PROFILE | All Aboard for literacy

Assumption Early Childhood Center director stresses importance of reading

Shelley Michael, author and director of the early childhood center at Assumption Parish in south St. Louis County
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Shelley Michael is the author of “All Aboard!: The Adventures of Louise and Her Pink Polka Dot Suitcase.” The children’s book was inspired by her love of transportation and traveling with her daughter and husband. It’s also a fit with her role as director of the early childhood center at Assumption Parish in south St. Louis County.

How did you get the idea for the book?

I’ve always loved literacy, all through school and college. Before I had (my daughter) Georgie, I sent in a bunch of manuscripts. I was turned down. A lot. After I had Georgie, I decided to try again from a different perspective — from a mommy’s brain and a little further in my career.

This is a true story of me, Georgie and (my husband) Bill taking a train trip to Normal, Ill., when Georgie was 3. She received a pink polka-dot suitcase from Santa for Christmas. So we took a train trip over Christmas break. The book is that story, of her not wanting to give the conductor the suitcase because it was important to her. Inside the suitcase was her bear.

She now is 8 years old, loves to travel and has four suitcases. We now are working on a second book which includes an airplane ride.

How difficult was it to get the book published?

Really hard. Start to finish, from chatting with the publisher to having the book in my hand, was 20 months. Lots of edits. Lots of patience. You have to learn to be super open-minded to the editing process. One of the big things is that Georgie is a blonde-haired girl, and in this book Louise is a red-haired girl. The kids ask that question all the time when we go to schools for author demonstrations. My explanation is that’s the process of being open to receiving feedback on your work. We were trying to figure out what could be eye-catching. A little red-haired girl is eye-catching. … and Louise is the name of my husband’s mom who passed away and never got to meet Georgie.

Why is it important that children read?

Reading is a great foundation for beginning language skills. It’s important new mothers read to their babies while they’re in their bellies, that we read to our babies even when they’re not reading yet because they’re listening, hearing language, hearing the spoken word, hearing their parents’ voice, which creates bonds.

What else do you do to encourage reading?

I’ve started a free library in my front yard. It’s a pink polka-dot suitcase. I try to keep it stocked with children’s books. Webster has a ton of little free libraries (see littlefreelibrary.org). My long-term goal, and I’ve been working with my publisher a bit on this, is to get some pink polka-dot suitcase libraries in some underfunded, underdeveloped areas.

Why do you like working at Assumption?

I really do enjoy children from birth to 5. They’re me. I get it. I sit on the floor. … you have to be comfortable with that.

How do you bring your faith into your work?

It’s very value-based. To be kind, to love one another. We do a lot of outreach to the homeless. I’m a huge believer that everyone needs an opportunity. That’s why it’s important for me to give the opportunity for literacy for all children, not just those who can’t afford it. We have received some donations of books from people who own businesses to buy books for a classroom. I will go to the school, read and give away the books.

Did your faith play a role in creating the book?

Yes, in perseverance. Absolutely. I’d come home from work every day to “No thank you.” Every time I sign a book, I sign it “Be amazing.” I think it may sound cliche, but I think everyone has a way to be amazing, whether it’s to be good friend, have a kind heart … .

Shelley Michael

PARISH: Annunciation in Webster Groves

FAMILY: Husband, Bill; daughter, Georgie, 8

POSITION: Director of the early childhood center at Assumption Parish in south St. Louis County

FAVORITE SAINT: St. Teresa of Kolkata because she took care of children and babies

AUTHOR OF: “All Aboard!: The Adventures of Louise and Her Pink Polka Dot Suitcase.” The book is available at The Novel Neighbor, Left Bank Books, through her office at Assumption School and on Amazon.

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