Jen Delaney of Applewood Books just sent me this picture about an event in Lexington, Massachusetts. After doing a bit of research about Vocal Revolution, I have reached out to see if we could collaborate sometime on a Book Event sometime in the future. The connections seem to never end…..
Meeting up with young writers is always a thrill, and this visit was no exception. Visiting with Charlotte Agell’s students was very special because I was giving back to Charlotte who had many times visited with the young writers in the after school ESL Writing Club I had at Coffin School in Brunswick when I taught there. Here’s what Charlotte had to say following the visit:
Here are photos from author Julia O’Brien-Merrill’s recent visit to the 5th/6th Grade Writing Clubs, which combined for the event. Twenty-three kids enjoyed learning about the origins of the Charlie on the MTA song – The Man Who Never Returned!
It was part history lesson, part author visit, part music session.
Here’s a link to the author’s site featuring her book, Charlie on the MTA: Did He Ever Return?
The song was a direct result of her father’s mayoral candidacy in Boston, during the McCarthy era. It’s very much a picture book for all ages.
Since I last wrote, I had two fun Library visits in late July with Charlie on the M.T.A. Did He Ever Return? . The first one was at Norway (Maine) Memorial Library for the summer reading program. The audience was about twenty five eager readers who had lots of questions and comments about the book. I began with talking about my inspiration for writing the book, which is Nora Guthrie’s tribute to her father in her published book This Land is Your Land. We warmed up our voices singing Woody Guthrie’s song, which most of the kids knew. Then when I finished reading Charlie, we gave a rousing version of the M.T.A. song.
The following summer day, I visited Patten Free Library in Bath for a Story Hour. The audience was a combination of four and five-year olds with their parents and several sixty-somethings who have known the song all of their lives. I just love to hear the stories people have about the song, with most people being totally surprised and intrigued by the back-story and wanting to share the book with their friends and family from one to ninety-nine!
Both of the librarians from Norway and Bath invited me because of their love of the song from early ages. Thank you to Anika Black and Carol McFadden for sharing your enthusiasm with your library patrons. I give a special shout out to the importance of libraries with another tid-bit of my wonderful father’s late-in-life career as a librarian at the Lewiston Public Library, the University of Southern Maine Library, and finally as the Librarian at Westbrook (Maine) High School.
Give a listen to these two podcasts about Charlie from last spring.
Jedlie from Reading with your Kids podcast contacted me for a Skype interview in April. He was from the Boston area, knew the Kingston Trio version of the M.T.A.Song, but did not know the back story. Here is the link:
Next, I met up with David Dunavin of Off the Path from New York to Boston on wshu Public Radio while I was in Boston in May doing a couple of book events. He interviewed me for about an hour about the song, my father, and the process of getting the book published. He also interviewed other folks and put together a very interesting piece! This link will take you there if you want to have a listen.
**Meet me at Books in Boothbay 2018** Boothbay Railway Village
July 14, 2018 from 9:00-1:00
A lifelong educator and daughter of a librarian and a reading teacher, Julia M. O’Brien-Merrill has firsthand knowledge of the power of reading richly illustrated children’s books to teach about the world. She has had the good fortune to teach children in Maine, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, and China. Born in Boston, now living in Maine and retired from teaching English as a Second Language, she has time to play her violin in the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra, practice yoga, downhill ski, study Spanish, travel by land and by sea with her husband David, and visit with her westward-ho grown sons. In her first book illustrated by Caitlin Marquis and published by Applewood Books, Commonwealth Editions in July 2017, Charlie on the M.T.A. Did He Ever Return?, she has fulfilled both her own and her father’s dream of honoring his commitment to social justice through a book that will teach future generations about a piece of Boston history.
While in Boston, I visited Boston Public Library to see that my book Charlie on the M.T.A. was included in their collection. I had expected to see it in the Children’s Library, but was surprised to find it in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library. Here I am with the book after spending the afternoon in Boston with my friend and tour guide, Evan.
On Saturday June 2nd illustrator Caitlin Marquis and I had the honor of doing a Book Talk in the Long Hall at the Boston Athenaeum. Children’s librarian Dani Crickman and the staff at the Athenaeum paid attention to so many details regarding getting our presentations set up and were very gracious hosts for this special event. My brother-in-law, Frank Hartig, and his band “East of Yonder”, were a welcome addition to the event as they provided the musical magic of the original lyrics of the song. The audience, young and old, were all enthusiastic singers as we all ended singing a rousing edition of “The M.T.A.” Thanks to all who made this event so special.
Sharing Charlie on the M.T.A. in Boston at 826 Boston in late May was a lot of fun. When I entered the building with my friend Evan, I was approached by many children asking, “Are you the author? Can I have your autograph?” After some tutoring time, the students gathered to listen to the story, sing along with the chorus, and ask pertinent questions.
The staff at 826 Boston were as fascinated by the backstory as the children. Here are comments from Annie Dade who coordinated my visit:
“Thank YOU for your lovely author visit! The kids really enjoyed your story and singing along with the chorus! The singing brought kids of all ages together to celebrate this fun piece of Boston history. We thought it was so lovely how you made the historical artifacts available for perusal afterwards. We also thought you did such a great job working with a group of varying ages and confidence levels. You were fantastic navigating kids who were calling out and engaging others who were perhaps a bit shy.”
I had an amazing day for an author’s visit at Prospect Hill Academy in Somerville at the end of March. I visited each second and third grade classes to share my book , to answer insightful questions from the students, and to have a rousing sing-along at the end of the day. The students had created posters for the M.T.A. Timeline in order to learn about a piece of Boston history. Now that the students know the song, I urged them to sing it whenever they ride the T! Special thanks to all of the teachers and to Principal Nancy Alach whose mother was the Massachusetts Progressive Party secretary with my father in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. A bonus to the day was a wonderful visit with Anne Alach who is still sharing stories.
I am more than excited to be heading to Boston this week for a couple of events to share Charlie with some more readers. Thanks to my friend Evan, I will be volunteering at 826 Boston orgin Roxbury on Wednesday May 30th. After helping at each of two tutoring sessions, I will be reading Charlie on the M.T.A. Did He Ever Return? to students involved in the program. I feel like I am going back to my roots, as I attended kindergarten and first grade in the Roxbury Public Schools in 1954 and 1955. http://www.826boston
Then on Saturday June 2nd at 1:00 I will be sharing my book at the Boston Athenaeum where there will be a reading along with some singing with my brother-in-law Frank and possible some of his band-mates in a rousing rendition of The M.T.A.Harvard Bookstore will be there with books that I will gladly sign.
I am excited to be visiting Stratton School on Friday morning February 9th to share Charlie with the Pre-K to fourth grade students there. On the following day, February 10th, I will give a book talk at the Carrabassett Valley Public Library at 4:30, perhaps together with some singing along with the signing. Spreading the word about the book and the history behind it continues to be an adventure, and I am sure my father would be delighted that I am telling part of his-story!
A lot has happened along my life-long journey with Charlie on the M.T.A. Did He Ever Return? since the book’s publication in July. Little did I realize how many doors and windows would open in the quest to get the book into the hands of readers.
The event with illustrator Caitlin Marquis at the Maine Historical Society in November was a huge success, with the bookshop there selling out of the books! Now that the Walter and Laura O’Brien Collection is safely in the Brown Research Library, I hope that inquiring minds about the historical, social, and political lives of my parents and other progressives in the forties and fifties will find some interesting primary sources.
As I begin to get my feet wet as an author, I have enjoyed reading the book and having discussions with students at a few schools in Maine including:
In a first grade classroom at Coffin School in Brunswick as a “Celebrity Author-Reader” reading a copy of the book I had donated to the school library in memory of my dear friend and mentor Beth Bartlett for many years when I taught English as a Second Language in the Brunswick Schools.
In a fourth grade classroom at Great Salt Bay School in Damariscotta where the students formed a human timeline of the history of the MTA song and its history.
In a second grade classroom at the Howard C. Reiche School in Portland in my childhood neighborhood. Mr. Reiche was the principal when I attended Portland High School (1965-1968). It was a delight and thrill to share the book with the very curious young students. According to their teacher, Kristen Fox, a student even brought in a CharlieCard the following day.
“My students enjoyed and learned a lot from Julia’s visit to our classroom. They loved meeting an author, and they were intrigued by
the story of Julia’s father. They sang the M.T.A. folk song and passed around an authentic Charlie card. Julia easily connected with the children, and was able to effectively communicate this rich and complicated story while keeping the students engaged.”
Kristen Fox, 2nd grade teacher
Howard C. Reiche Community School
Stay tuned for more book events in Maine and Boston.