For my first CLiF event, I went to the Year of the Book kick-off at Braintree Elementary School in Braintree, Vermont. As a smaller school, they have fewer than 100 students, but it was clear to me from the get-go that this didn’t prevent them from instilling a strong love of reading in the kids’ minds.

Not to mention, the campus was beautiful. It was small, but it mirrored a corn field, had a small garden of its own, and a big field beside its playground to run around and play in. When the kids came out for recess, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia, hearing the laughing, screaming, funny voices, and petty arguing. It reminded me of when I was in elementary school–what feels like a long time ago, now. The easy way I went from day to day, moment to moment. Seeing all these kids now, as I set up for an event for my job, it put me at ease remembering that time.

I took in the view, and felt that surprising sense of calm. This was my chance to represent CLiF, on my own, for the very first time. A moment where I looked back at a time in my life that seemed so far away, and all the same so close to mind, and recognized the responsibility I now had to hold. It ought to have been a little nerve-wracking, but I just felt ready; excited to see what an event with a published author would be like, and what I could learn from it. I made small talk with the faculty who helped set up, planned and adapted to the event amid the wind and the constantly-falling-over books, and listened to the sounds of kids being kids, ready to read and learn about reading. I couldn’t wait for the presentation to begin.

Seeing the way John Churchman interacted with the two audiences, one of older children (third to fifth grade), and one of younger kids (kindergarten to second grade) was a treat, to say the least. Along with his dog Laddie, Mr. Churchman showcased his many picture books telling the tales of the animals on his farm–of which he has a whopping 93. He read to both groups, answered questions, and taught them about the ways he creates his stories, as well as the wonder that goes into each of them. Children listened on bated breath–even the ones who picked at and threw grass around seemed generally interested, if nothing else than the dog and vivid images in each of Mr. Churchman’s books.

Each time, when he had finished with his presentation, the kids would be allowed to look through the table of books that I and some of the faculty had helped set up, and choose one book to keep. Over the course of the year, they’ll be able to choose ten total books to call their own out of the many choices we brought along for them.

I got to take pictures all the while, help kids pick out their books, and talk with the school faculty, as well as Mr. Churchman himself. Socializing isn’t something I tend to shy away from, but here it felt especially important to get my foot in the door, so to speak. Getting to know published authors, as well as making connections with schools and educators, feels like the best thing I can do right now as an AmeriCorps member serving at CLiF.

When everything was said and done, I helped the faculty pack up the remaining books back into their boxes, and said my goodbyes. From there I drove back home, invigorated by the sense of pride and growth I found in myself, and ready for my next CLiF event.

Danny Giancioppo is CLiF’s new AmeriCorps VISTA member. He grew up in Franklin, Massachusetts, and attended Hofstra University in New York, where he earned a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing & Literature and a double-minor in Journalism and RTVF Studies. Now, he lives in Barre, VT with his partner and spends time writing, reading, playing the guitar, and learning how to be a cat-dad to two young kittens.

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