by Dr. Bena Hartman
Ever wish you had a ‘do over?’ I mean, if you could turn back the hands of time, what one thing would you do differently? If you’re anything like me, you have lots of things you would like to press rewind and ‘do over.’ Here’s one of mine: I wish I had said, ‘thank you’ to my eighth-grade teacher Mrs. Kukick when she told me: “You’re a wonderful writer.” But instead of saying, ‘thank you,’ like I should have, I brushed the comment off because I didn’t feel like I was—in my heart or in my mind. Little did I know at the time that she had planted the seed of my writing career through those four—simple—words.
Fast forward 10 years and the effect of Mrs. Kukick’s words can be traced in a journal that I kept as a classroom teacher. And eight years later as an assistant professor as I continued writing through the articles I wrote about African American children’s literature.
Although I haven’t taught for quite some time, when I dug deep into myself I heard the echoes of Mrs. Kukick and it was then that her words took full bloom. Because of my passion for learning, both of my books Jasmine Can: Creating Self-Confidence and September’s Big Assignment share a literacy theme and describe protagonists that navigate their way through life as a struggling and reluctant reader. Both books have received awards including: The Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, The Eric Hoffer Montaigne Award, the New York Book Festival Award, and the Purple Dragonfly Award.
The encouraging words uttered by Mrs. Kukick have been reinforced and expressed by others. For example, I’ve had the honor to present abroad in Rize, Turkey, and in the U.S. at places like the Michigan Reading Association Conference and the Keystone State Reading Association Conference in Pennsylvania. I’ve also presented locally and across the country in a host of elementary and middle schools, and at a mix of bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Schuler Books. I am currently working on writing my first novel and write book reviews for the Michigan Reading Journal. With all my various writing projects, keeping my website up to date has turned out to be an ongoing work in progress.
I plan on pressing the pause button to carve out extended periods of time to write summer of 2014. To that end, I’ll close where I began. To Mrs. Kukick, and all other teachers who have labored day in and day out helping students reach their greatest potential in life, thank you and may you continue to stay the course.
Thank you Bena!
Award winning author Bena Hartman was a former classroom teacher in Prince George’s County Maryland, and an assistant professor of reading education at the University of South Florida and University of Pittsburgh. She has several published articles on the use of African American Children’s Literature, and two published children’s books: a picture book called Jasmine Can: Creating Self Confidence, an honorable mention for the Purple Dragonfly Award, and a chapter book entitled September’s Big Assignment—a Gold Medal Winner for the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Montaigne Award for most thought-provoking books of the year, and the New York City Children’s Book Award. Her future projects include a picture book about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech, and a novel that uses air as the narrator to the story.