A Book for All

All-school read comforts, delights, and challenges

Last January, Director of Libraries Jeanine Akers and Chair of the English Department Shari Ray started what felt like an impossible task. Their goal: selecting a title for an all-school summer read. Identifying a book that would resonate with all members of the St. Mary’s community—from 1st graders to faculty and staff—was a challenge.

Akers began by pulling popular titles. She’d then share them with Ray, who would read and consider how to apply the book in the classroom. The pair crossed book after book off the list until they found the right fit.

“We realized if we wanted to meet our goal of building community through an all-school read, we had to choose a book that would be meaningful to the largest group of people possible and not one that took us through sadness to redemption,” Akers said. “We didn’t want to get stuck in sadness.”

After the social isolation caused by COVID and the death of two students during the 2021-2022 school year, the community needed an uplifting and unifying book. Where Akers and Ray landed, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy, proved to be a providential choice as tragedy struck the St. Mary’s community again this fall. The book’s illustrations and wise words became an anchor as St. Mary’s mourned the death of former Middle School Teacher Shannon Bettis and the abduction and murder of Junior Kindergarten Teacher Liza Fletcher.

When grief washed over the community and words were hard to find, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse was a guide on how to take the next steps.

“We don’t know about tomorrow,” said the horse, “all we need to know is that we love each other.”

Mackesy’s comforting words and unique illustrations seemed to resonate with members of the community who shared images and quotes from the book on social media.

“Books help us process all these complicated things in life, even if we’re not dealing with the same complicated things,” Akers said.

In September, author Mackesy reached out to St. Mary’s after learning that his book impacted our community. Several students and Ray had the opportunity to talk with Mackesy via Zoom. A recording of their conversation about responding to grief and tragedy is available here.

Teachers across campus integrated The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse into the curriculum.

In 7th-grade literature class, Sally Lyon says her students were confused about why they were reading and talking about a children’s book. Lyon says using a children’s book to discuss topics like mood, tone, rising action, climax, and inferences can be a launch pad into more complex literature.

In her class, Lyon also asks students to create their ideal bookshelf. “I ask the girls to include the ten most important books in their lives so far. Some of them will include children’s books that stuck with them. I think this book will make our students’ lists in years to come,” Lyon said.

In Pat McFadden’s Upper School Latin class, students translated segments of the book into Latin. Junior Caroline Hunt shared, “Many English phrases can’t translate into Latin word for word. So, we first talked through the true meaning of each sentence in order to better render it into Latin. In one example, we decided to use the word ‘amicus,’ meaning friend, because we felt it most embodied what the word ‘kind’ meant in the text.”

One of the pages Hunt translated read: “I am so small,” said the mole. “Yes,” said the boy, “but you make a huge difference.” “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “Kind,” said the boy.

The Latin translation reads: “Sum adeo improcerus,” dixit talpa. “Ita vero,” puer dixit, “sed facis immane discrimen.” “Quis desideres esse cum adolesces?” “Amicus” puer respondit.

That exact page also stood out to Molly Logan’s 2nd-grade art class. Inspired by the quote, Logan asked each girl to draw symbols and write words encapsulating ways she could make a “huge difference” inside her own life-size silhouette. Logan also found that her fourth graders were delighted by how Mackesy used a tea cup stain in the book’s illustration. She asked them to transform tea cup stains into other objects, including sunsets, flowers, swings, monsters, and more.

Logan took a deeper dive into the book with 5th-grade students. The students discussed the story’s themes, including “the wild,” and explored artistic skills like mark-making that Mackesy uses throughout the book.

 “I challenged the girls to create a work of art that illustrated the theme, ‘the wild,’ incorporating a variety of marks, revealing an understanding of the artistic element value, and providing a sense of balance and unity,” Logan said. “Each girl was solely responsible for how she met the challenge. It was no easy task and required a higher level of thinking about the book and the artistic skills.”

Akers and Ray hope the all-school read selections can continue to impact and inspire the community. They have already started looking for this summer’s book or books.

“We’re dedicated to finding the right book at the right time for our community. It’s a lot of trial and error and honest conversations. There are no shortcuts,” Akers said.

Do you have a favorite book to recommend for the all-school read? Email communications@stmarysschool.org with your recommendation.

  • All-School
  • Early Childhood
  • Lower School
  • Middle School
  • Upper School

Additional Images

Fifth grader Savannah Rai Martin shows off her interpretation of “the wild.”

Inspired by the theme of “the wild,” 5th grade students were challenged to create their own representation using the artistic skill of mark-making.

Last summer, all students from 1st grade through 12th grade read The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. The New York Times best-selling book follows the adventures of the four friends as they share their fears and hopes along the journey home.