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About Walter Boomsma
As a grade school student I took great pleasure in writing letters to my grandmother–and found I enjoyed the act of putting words on paper. I recall one piece I wrote in junior high regarding how to set up an aquarium. The basis was all of the mistakes one would make in the process. The teacher loved it. I remember her love of it more than I remember the actual piece.
I was fortunate to have a number of teachers who encouraged my craft–and some who didn’t. Also during junior high I remember one teacher’s comment on an essay I wrote. She was horribly upset that I’d misspelled the word “truly” several times. Her concern was the repetition of the mistake. I wanted to note that if I thought I’d spelled it right the first time, why would I question it the next time? And why didn’t she criticize me for overusing the word? I confess, however, that I learned how simple errors can detract from the message. I also never spelled truly wrong again.
During high school, Mr. Russo put an edge on my writing. I recall many of his scribbles in the margin… often accusing me of dysentery of the pen and advising me to put my head “squarely on the chopping block” when I took a controversial position. (A chapter in Small People -- Big Brains is devoted to his tutelage.)
I do owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Bailey a college professor who gave an assignment that was profoundly simple. He made us keep a journal. We had to write a paragraph every day. The big disappointment was that he never collected it. A number of years passed before I fully appreciated the magic of the assignment. I think it was in part, “Better to write for oneself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self.”
In 1985 I began working as an independent consultant in individual and organizational development. It was perhaps providential that I learned at least one powerful lesson about problem solving from a first grader. We could learn management concepts by watching kids play. Kids tend to make things simple and direct. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a team of kids that I could take on the road with me.
When I semi-retired in 2002, I moved to Maine to find some of that simplicity kids understand. I somewhat accidentally (or perhaps “fatefully”) found myself working on a volunteer basis with kids.
Now, a decade later, I’ve effectively started a new career as an elementary school substitute (K-6). The kids haven’t run out of things to teach me. They may be small people, but they really do have big brains.
In the pages of this “collection of stories about simplicity, exploration and wonder,” you’ll meet a second grader who becomes quite certain Mr. Boomsma is ignorant of the basic facts of life. How the young student handles this delicate situation is a lesson it tact that many adults should learn. You’ll also encounter a nine year old who thinks he’s “an excellent reader and extremely smart ” until he’s forced to consider that being smart is about knowing what he doesn’t know.
The title of the book comes from an encounter with a young fellow who was firmly convinced that his difficulties at school were the result of his brain being too small. The stories, however, prove that these small people really do have big brains. They just haven’t discovered and fully learned how to use them yet.
The author shares his first story in the preface. It’s about fourth graders reading a story together until the teacher stopped them and asked them to guess the ending. (The story was about a mouse that was unhappy that he was receiving less attention since the birth of his baby brother.) The students were sharing their guesses and one fellow suggested either the mouse or his brother might disappear thanks to the family cat. His classmate used that you’ve-got-to-be-kidding tone when she said, “It’s a children’s book! I doubt that anyone’s going to get eaten.”
While this isn’t a children’s book, no one gets eaten. But the author’s hope for you is that you do get entertained and challenged. He’s also betting by the end of the book you’ll find your brain is bigger than you realized.