Anyone visiting Woodland Primary Monday could feel the excitement immediately upon entering the school.
Staff and students at the Grand Falls-Windsor school wore special T-shirts which had Jan Brett book covers printed on them. There was a banner hanging in the hallway and every door was decorated in one of Brett’s book themes. The bestselling children’s author and illustrator’s visit had everyone on edge.
Brett’s visit came after “The Little School That Could,” Woodland Primary, a kindergarten to Grade 3 school of approximately 400 students in a community of 14,000, won an online competition last year competing against 5,700 other schools and libraries from more than 20 countries worldwide, including the United States, Iceland, Nigeria, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
Thanks to the dedication of students, staff, parents and the community, the New York Times No. 1 bestselling author/ artist visited the school for the day Monday.
“Jan Brett’s visit was certainly all
we expected and more,” said Darlene Sullivan, the school’s principal. “Her interaction with the students was very engaging and inspiring for them. To see their little faces light up when they finally got to see her in person and meet her was heartwarming. They were awestruck. It was a once-in-a-lifetime educational visit that we will all remember forever.”
Mariah Lapina, an eight-year-old Grade 3 student, was one of many students who showed extreme excitement about their special guest.
“I knew that she is the best author in the world, and she was really good at illustrating,” Mariah said. “I was really excited. When she came my legs were shaking, I couldn’t stop shaking. I’m still shaking inside.”
Mariah said she has read a lot of Brett’s books, but she does not own any because she can never find any on the shelves.
“Because they are the best books and people always try to get them.”
And the excitement was shared by the author.
“It was fantastic,” Brett told the Advertiser Tuesday morning from the Mount Peyton Hotel. “It far surpassed expectations, and the expectations were high. It’s been really, really nice. The warmth of the people has been amazing, and to see the school that has just lit up with the joy of reading and books.”
Brett said the visit went very well. She said she enjoyed the school, and the library was incredible.
“It’s like a treasure trove,” Brett said. “I said it’s like going to Ali Baba’s cave, only instead of jewels and pearls and gold, it was books, non-fiction and fiction. It was great.”
Brett started the day by speaking to the assembly in the gymnasium, and drawing a baby polar bear from “The Three Snow Bears” as a demonstration for the students.
“There was one class …they went back to their classroom and while it was still fresh in their minds, they drew the baby polar bear, which was the one that I demonstrated, and they were better than mine,” Brett said. “I’m always astounded at their imagination because each one will emphasize what they like the best.”
Mariah said Brett made drawing look quite easy.
“It looks like you can just draw that instantly, but when we (did) our hedgehogs, it was so hard to draw it. It took so long to do it all, but she made it look so easy,” Mariah said.
One of the highlights, Brett said, was when the students sang “I’se da b’y” for her.
“I was so impressed by that,” she said.
After visiting a number of schools, she said, each has its own personality. She said she loved the exuberance and spirit in the students at Woodland Primary.
“It’s a line that you have to walk between discipline and taking the fun out of school, and they definitely had a lot of fun in school,” Brett said.
Brett said she couldn’t believe she and her husband, Joe, were greeted at the airport.
“I think there were probably about 20 children that met me at the airport and you could have just pushed me over with a feather,” Brett said. “When I got off the plane and I saw all these people and I say, ‘Boy there’s a lot of people waiting for their family members,’ and then it turned out it was for me. It was so nice.”
Back to her roots
Monday evening, there was a feast for the couple at the golf club in Grand Falls-Windsor.
“The food was out of this world,” Brett said.
She said she came from a family that has lived a long time in Massachusetts and her grandparents and parents had a real traditional streak in them. The cod was very important in Massachusetts, she said
“I kind of miss that,” she said. “I have always been brought up that these are the stepping-stones for our culture … the people that worked so hard in the past and they were my ancestors from both sides of the family. We would always have a special dish we called ‘fin and hattie.’ It was salt cod. We would have it for breakfast a lot of times. You can hardly even find it now in the supermarket. The (fish) stew that I had last night, you could not find unless you made it yourself. It’s like extinct at restaurants.”
Though she does not eat meat, Brett said she enjoyed the fisherman’s brewis, smoked salmon and cod, and couldn’t get enough of the fish chowder.
The baby scallops brought back memories for her of when she was a child living by the cape when her father would go scalloping with his friends.
“In the cape you could get these little scallops that were tiny and are so good,” Brett said. “They had the tiny scallops. They had squid that was incredible, which I have never had anything like.”
Brett and her husband were “Screeched-in” as well.
“There was a very talented man who played the part of the very traditional Newfoundland fisherman. He had his oilskins on,” she said. “He was very funny and entertaining. He taught us some of the expressions, which I couldn’t even pronounce then, let alone pronounce now. He talked them and we had to say them out loud, which was next to impossible. Then we had to drink our Screech. Joe drank four shots of it and I only drank like a quarter of it.”
They also had peppermint knobs and Purity syrup.
“That is delicious,” she said. “They are going to send me two bottles of it.”
Brett was also excited over the gifts she received while in Grand Falls-Windsor.
“They gifted me with all these beautiful presents,” she said.
She is heading home with a homemade, hand-painted Newfoundland quilt, a gift pack of little bottles of Screech, a handmade necklace and a Newfoundland tartan, among other items, she said.
The Newfoundland tartan will have a new home on the old-fashioned porch overlooking a lake at their camp.
“And we will be having our Screech and we’ll toast you,” she said. “We’ll wait until we have the whole family there, because it will be a big birthday for Joe.”
Now that the couple has a small taste of Newfoundland and Labrador, they plan to return and would like to take a trip around the province. She said she would like to take a boat tour, and see the many birds that inhabit this province.
“I would really like to go to the Viking site up on the Northern Peninsula,” Brett said, adding she collects Grenfell rugs. “So I would like to go to the mission. I find it totally was an experience, although … I realize it’s just a small sampling.”