Over the summer, I received an email from Carole Langley, wife of a Barrow alumni. She introduced me to the incredible story of Moina Belle Michael, an Athens area woman who is credited with making the poppy the symbol of remembrance for soldiers. The children’s book is called The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and her Tribute to Veterans by Barbara Walsh. Until this book, I really didn’t know the story of Moina and her ties to Athens, Georgia and the world, but I am so thankful that Carole introduced me to this book and I’m even more grateful to Barbara Walsh for creating it.
After that email, I contacted Barbara and her publisher and began a long collaborative journey to bring her to our school. Luckily, Barbara was already going to be in Decatur for the Decatur Book Festival. She graciously agreed to come to Athens and present her work to our 4th and 5th graders, but just like Moina, Barbara wanted to do more. She offered to visit as many schools as she could while she was in Georgia. I arranged for her to visit 7 other elementary schools in Clarke County and Carole Langley agreedto be her chauffeur.
Before her visit, I read the book to all 4th and 5th grade classes. We also watched the book trailer:
And we watched the video from the Georgia Women of Achievement:
All of this information was fascinating to the students and was a great tie-in to the 5th grade Veteran’s Day Luncheon that they do every November. The students couldn’t wait to hear Barbara talk.
Barrow was honored to be Barbara’s first ever school visit, and she did an incredible job sharing Moina’s story and the long process it took to write a work on nonfiction. In all, it took 7 years to bring this book into the printed copy that we hold into our hands today. Barbara shared how she interviewed numerous people, dug through archives at UGA and Columbia University, and used Moina’s autobiography as a resource. She shared how her editor wanted her to be extremely thorough in her research. I loved having this information emphasized for students so that they could see how hard authors have to work to research their topic. Having this at the front end of the year will allow this visit to inspire our work for the rest of the year. Barbara also shared many pictures of artifacts and the story of her 99 year old father who has a personal connection with Moina.
As students left, Barbara gave each student a poppy that was made by a veteran. She also gave them each a bookmark from her book. Avid Bookshop sold copies of her book and those will be autographed and delivered to students soon.
In the spirit of Moina Michael, Barbara Walsh doesn’t keep a penny of the profits from her books. She donates everything to Operation Purple, which benefits the children of those serving in the military. Barbara’s passion for Moina Michael’s mission is evident in every conversation that you have with her. She truly lives up to Moina’s own phrase: “Whatsoever the hands find to do, do it with all your might.” Thank you Barbara Walsh for giving this gift of a story to all children, and thank you for your generosity in coming to speak to our Barrow and CCSD students.