Buff Lindau on Discovering the Joy of Language

A long-time Everybody Wins! mentor at Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington, Buff Lindau is also a poet with a new book out from Onion River Press. Buff joined the Everybody Wins! board of directors in 2017 and since then has helped families find books to read at Read-A-Thons, hawked 50/50 tickets at Lake Monsters games, and written dozens of thank you cards to help us keep children reading with their mentors.

I have been dipping into The House That Holds every day or two since I received my copy a month ago. Each page, each poem tells a new story of daily life, family connection (or disconnection),  the natural world and the built one, through the poet’s eyes. It’s a great book for solace this year when so many things seem out of joint and so many of us feel disconnected and isolated. You can find Buff’s book through Phoenix Books, another local bookstore, or Amazon.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the book one morning to discover a poem about Buff’s joy in mentoring with Everybody Wins! Vermont! With Buff’s permission, that poem “Kudos to Dr. Seuss” is reproduced below.

Theodore Geisel (whose pen name was Dr. Seuss) and his children’s books have come under deserved criticism for blatant racism in some cases and racist tropes and undercurrents in others. This poem and the joyful engagement it records stand side by side with these facts but do not outweigh them. Instead, they point out how complex human beings are, and how connected our worldviews are to the act of creating. Brilliance and bigotry can be—often are—found in the same artist, and in their art.

Culture, books, and our understanding change over time. What this poem celebrates—the power of language and the joy of learning—endures.

Kudos to Dr. Seuss

Our high fives, Kiki’s and mine, hit just right—
hand to hand, solid—the thwack of a smack
echoed her pride. She read by herself today.
that Smack! shaped her day and rejiggered mine.

While there’re Brazil’s mosquitoes
spreading horrors,
and Flint’s lead-carrying water
poisoning young children

First-grader Kiki
read for the whole hour, today,
no distraction into drawing or games.
I got it. I can do it, she said.

The brilliant Dr. Seuss—catchy rhymes,
hard words and easy, Kiki plowed on undaunted,
with focus and heart and wide-eyed interest,
her smiley seven-year-old, snaggle-tooth
beautiful face close to the page.
She was working, sounding out the words,
keeping on keeping on
till we came to the end of our mentoring hour.

Nothing, not all the hugs her friends give her,
or her sparkly sweaters, fluffy skirts or excellent boots,
interests her like the books she read today.
She glowed with excitement.

Her hard work, her spirit,
a gift in the face of Flint and Brazil.
We picked the best books for next week
and high-fived a jolly farewell.

—Buff Lindau, The House That Holds