Debbie Clement is big on celebrating ideas through song and art. For the past two decades, she has made a living at it, turning songs into picture books that celebrate individuality, learning and movement, and bringing them to schools across the country.
On the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day (Sept. 8), the part-time Door County resident paid a visit to the students of Southern Door Elementary School to encourage the growth of ideas and sharing them with the world through lyric and pictures.
“What we’re all about is to celebrate that a person, in this case me, can have an idea and write it down,” Clement said. “Even with the very youngest ones, I talk about that. They pay me money to come to your school. This is my job. I try to really break it down. The little ones are just shocked at the fact that I’m there and I’m receiving money. They’d probably be shocked to learn that their teachers are paid, too.”
“It’s this idea that our ideas then become a bridge out into this bigger world,” she added.
Clement is the author behind the songs-turned-picture books You’re Wonderful, Tall Giraffe and Red, White and Blue. The latter was written in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 and while it does not directly reference the attacks, the 32-page book sets out to instill a sense of patriotism and celebration of all things American.
“I really tried to make the illustrations of the people and the land within the book to be demonstrative of the diversity of our country, not just the people are diverse but the land itself is diverse,” Clement explained. “…The first illustration I started in the book is actually a depiction of Eagle Harbor and there are two white church steeples and Wilson’s ice cream and a dock with a sailboat in the background.”
Clement’s visit will be the starting point for two projects at the elementary level, one each focused on patriotism and art. For the first, students will write letters to the troops, which will be put into care packages for Adopt-A-Soldier of Door County. This program sends care packages several times each year to more than 170 soldiers from Door and Kewaunee counties who are stationed in the U.S. and abroad.
This is the first year Clement will embark on an official letter-writing project for the troops. The project has special meaning for the author, whose husband served in the Navy during the Vietnam era and whose son-in-law is currently based at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.
“Just the reality of how very lonesome, detached from your family, your place, your people … and what a letter means, a contact from somebody thinking of you and wishing you well and hoping for the best,” the author said.
The second project will see elementary classrooms collaborating on a building-wide art project that will be displayed during the annual spring Fine Arts Fest. First grade teacher Jessica Meacham, who coordinated Clement’s visit with the support of grants from the Southern Door Education Foundation and elementary Parents Involved in Education, explained that this project will carry on the author’s vision of helping students find their creativity and voice.
“With art, as a teacher, I can give them a template and they can fill it in and it’s more teacher inspired but hopefully this project is more kid-inspired and open-ended and really honoring what the child brings to the art project,” Meacham said.
Although Clement will embark on several visits to elementary schools and conferences across the country in the coming months, her hope is that the ideas she presented to Southern Door students at the beginning of the year – cooperation, ideas, patriotism and art – will be a thread that weaves into projects until the final day of school.
All the while, she will remain their cheerleader.
“I intend it to be a celebration of literacy and within that very short period of time that I have with them, hopefully to light that candle for their own ideas and to follow that through and to be true to that and celebrate the fact that one little person with one little idea can take it from Door County to Florida to Los Angeles to Nashville in three months and that their voice can offer support to those who are serving our country.”
For more on Clement, visit RainbowsWithinReach.com.