Wednesday, January 30, 2019

An Angel To Watch Over Me: My Interview with Author Alan Brady

Everyone has a story. Part of my story involves the families of the children I teach. I've wanted to write about one of those families for quite some time. I've taught two of their four children. From the moment I found out that Mr. Brady had written a children's book, I've been curious about how this story came to be a book. One of my dreams is to publish a children's book so I wanted to know the story behind this beautiful book, An Angel To Watch Over Me.

As I reflected on Mr. Brady's responses to my questions, I realized his answers tell the story of An Angel To Watch Over Me far better than I ever could. All I needed to do was write an introduction and share his story with the world.

I've used this book with my class on the Feast of the Guardian Angel. What I love most is how quickly my first graders are intrigued by the story of Joe. What I appreciate most about the author is his reason for publishing the story.

I hope you enjoy the story behind An Angel To Watch Over Me.

My interview with Alan Brady the author of An Angel To Watch Over Me:

Where did you get the idea to write An Angel To Watch Over Me?  Is it based on experiences you had as a child or experiences you’ve had as a father?

"When I was very young, I had a strong belief in God and the fact that each of us is given a guardian angel to help us on our journey in this life.  By the time I was in college I had completely drifted away from my faith.  I started my working life with very material goals and an outlook on life that was very self-centered. By the time I hit my thirties I was very fortunate to meet someone who made me think about someone other than myself.  As we made plans to get married, we both started going back to church and so began my journey back to my faith.  About a year after I married my wife Melissa, I had a Road to Damascus experience that forever deepened my faith.  It was as if someone pulled back the veil that keeps us from seeing the reality and true presence of God in the world as well as the reality of evil.  I don’t want to get into the specifics of what I experienced but it is enough to say that I no longer believe as a matter of faith that God exists, I know this as fact because of my experiences.

As a result of this deep conversion I have struggled with finding a way I can help others draw closer to God and deepen their own faith.  I wrote An Angel To Watch Over Me for my own children to help them see how important it is to place God at the center of their lives, and to know how much God loves them.  Our guardian angels are a sign of that love for each of us, and I wanted my children to see that God has given them a friend that they can turn to at any time, no matter how discouraged, lonely or frustrated they may be.  My children have a childhood that has many unseen friends such as Christmas elves, the Easter Bunny and tooth fairies.  Drawing upon my own experiences I thought how much better it would be to foster a belief in someone who is actually real, and a friend that can really help my kids throughout their life, even if they can’t see that person.

As a father, and an ordinary and unremarkable individual, I wanted to inspire my own children that in God’s eyes, there is no such thing as an ordinary child and that each person is unique.  I wanted my kids to know that you don’t need to the brightest or the strongest to make a difference in this world.  I wanted them to understand and to achieve their purpose in this life, which is to love God, to reach heaven and to help as many people as they can fulfill that same purpose."

What was the most difficult part of the writing process for you?  What was the most rewarding part of the writing process for you?
"The most difficult part of the writing process was editing and refining the story.  I wrote the first draft in a couple of weeks and this part was relatively easy as I felt inspired in what I wanted to say.  I could see myself as a child in the main character Joe, and I drew upon some elements of my own experiences in the story.  However, reading and re-reading the story and attempting to look at it with a fresh set of eyes to make more careful word choices and changes to the story was a longer process, and this took a bit more patience.
The most rewarding part of the writing process was to create a story that is rooted in the eternal truth that God loves each one of us beyond all understanding.  This story offers hope to every child that God has great plans for them, even if they believe themselves to be ordinary and unremarkable.  It felt great to write something that might make a difference in the lives of my own children and hopefully many others; to believe beyond what we can see with our own eyes through the light of faith."

Do you have a favorite part of this story?  

"My favorite part of the story is when Joe’s guardian angel brings him back in time before creation and shows him that our existence is not just an accident or the creative hand of God at any given moment in time.  We see that God knew every detail about every person that will ever be born before he created the universe billions of years ago.  God loved each one of us before time began and he has waited for each one of us since then.  Now that is patience!"

How long did it take you to complete the book?
"As I mentioned, the first draft took a couple of weeks but it was probably four months before I had a draft I thought was close to completion.  I tried contacting a large number of literary agents specializing in children’s fiction around that time but I did not have any positive responses.  I did submit my manuscript to a select number of religious publishers but nobody was interested.  I was running out of options when a relative suggested self-publishing and I thought I had nothing to lose by investigating this as a possibility.
I settled on Outskirts Press to self-publish my book based upon the cost, client reviews and conversations I had with members of the publishing team.  I knew that the illustrations for the book would be a key element in the storytelling and appeal of the book.  On this basis I decided to seek out an illustrator myself rather than use the publisher’s in-house resources.   I narrowed down possible illustrators through the website Thumbtack, however, I was still not sure I could make a decision based upon work samples I had seen.  As the illustrations for the book represented a significant investment for me, I decided to ask my preferred artist to complete an image of the guardian angel in the story based upon my input and the description in my manuscript.  I was delighted with the result and commissioned Bhavna Bhen to complete the illustrations.  Unfortunately, Bhavna had a battle with cancer not long after she started work, but thankfully she did not abandon my project.  Bhavna’s work was put on hold for about five months while she made a recovery.  The illustration process took about a year in total.  It took an additional 3 months to complete all of the submissions to the publisher and finalizing the text placement, cover design and other publication issues.  In total the book took about 1 year and 7 months from concept to publication."

Are you planning any future books?  Do you have a favorite place to write?  

"As of now, I do not have any other future books planned but I have certainly not ruled this out.  I have thought about writing a faith-based book aimed at an adult audience, but I am not yet ready to start that project.  As far as a favorite place to write, I have an office in my home which is quiet during the day and this works well for me."

Who are some of your favorite authors?  Who are some of your children’s favorite authors?
"When I was younger, I used to read books by authors like John Grisham and David Baldacci and the purpose of my reading was for entertainment.  Unfortunately, with four children and a busy school and activity schedule I find that I don’t have as much time to read as I would like.  When I do find time to read, I like to read spiritual based books from which I can learn something new about my faith and the lives of the saints.  On my trips back to Ireland to see my parents I re-read the Diary of Saint Faustina.  For me this is the most important book I have read after the Bible, and a great influence on my faith life.
Like many parents, I feel that my kids could read more, and they have not really fallen in love with reading just yet.  My eldest (12) really liked Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate."

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?  

"What motivates me is to write about something that not only inspires you but something that makes a difference in the world.  If we are to be judged on what we did in this life, then find a voice that tells a story that can help other people on their journey. It might not always be the most commercially successful approach, but there are many rewards in this life and the next life that are not financial in nature."

I hope that Mr. Brady's story inspires you to share your story.  

If you would like to contact Mr. Brady regarding his book, please email him directly at

As always, thanks for reading,


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Welcome to Our Neighborhood!

Dear 1-D Parents,

I'm so happy to have the privilege of teaching your children for the 2018-2019 school year.  I thought it might be helpful to put my parenting resources in a blog post this year so you would have access to them on your phone.

One of the smartest decisions I made this summer was to go see the Mr. Rogers documentary.  That film rejuvenated me in more ways than I can describe.  I was reminded of when I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Rogers in college.  I was so nervous when I approached him to ask for his autograph for my cousin.  Since this was long before smart phones, I have no photographs to commemorate this moment.  What I remember most was his kindness.  He took my cousin's address and sent him an autographed photo and a letter.  He was exactly who he presented himself to be on television.  I realized two things this week in reflecting on this moment.  First, I want my first graders to be as comfortable as he was with who God has created them to be.  Second, Mr. Rogers planted a seed that day.  God used Mr. Rogers to start me on my journey towards teaching.  I just didn't know it at the time.  If you haven't already done so, please see Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Here are some of the books I've read and am currently reading that I think would be helpful:

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever

Image result for reclaiming conversation


This website is a very helpful parenting resource:

Our service project supports families in Rwanda.  Please visit their website to learn more about who your children will be helping.

We are working on being good neighbors in 1-D.  We have been enjoying ending our day watching clips from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  

Our time together will fly.  Know that I cherish each day with your children and look forward to working with you this year.


Miss Deem

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Dear Doc,

I've accepted my struggle with putting into words how Roy Halladay inspired me to be a better teacher.  I started this post back in November shortly after his passing.  I miss this man's presence in the game that I love so much, and I have decided it's okay that my post is unfinished.  My prayers remain with his wife, sons, and loved ones.  

November 2017

Dear Doc,

Tuesday was a tiring day for me.  I came home tired and grumpy and knew I needed to change my attitude.  After school I went home to change into more comfortable clothes before going to dog sit.  When I opened my closet full of Phillies shirts I decided I needed to channel you, follow your example, and improve my mindset.  I put on my Halladay shirt and got in my car to drive to my pet sitting job.  Before I started my car, my phone rang.  My friend Mark was calling to find out if I had heard the news.  He was the first to tell me that you had passed away that afternoon in a plane crash.  As the afternoon turned into evening, more friends and family members called and texted to make sure that I knew, and to share memories of you. 

July 28, 2018

I started this post back in November.  I still don't feel like I have the right words to describe how much you inspired me to be a better teacher.  I was blessed to be in the just the right time and place to take these two pictures.  I always wished I could have given them to you, but in hindsight I realize I needed to share them with Phillies Phans.  I took the top picture in Pittsburgh in 2012 during batting practice.  When I look at it I see one of my favorite players contemplating his gift.  I've looked at it countless times to remind me that teaching is my gift.  I took the bottom picture in Atlanta in 2013.  It was the only time I was present to see you pitch in person.  It was a rough day for you.  What I remember most is watching you warm up and seeing how hard you fought that day.  My niece and nephew were excited to see you pitch in person despite, the cold, the rain, and the score.  They even drew me pictures of you after the game. 

I miss seeing you pitch.  I miss seeing you encouraging and mentoring younger pitchers during Spring Training.  

I'm grateful for your example, Doc.  My prayers remain with your family and loved ones.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

What Love Looks Like

One of the best experiences I have had in my 20 years of teaching happened just a few weeks ago.  St. Matthew Catholic School had its second event to raise awareness for helping the poor. Last March we celebrated Poverty Action Day, and this year we had Poverty Action Week right before Spring Break.  Each day students had a special activity or presentation to raise awareness on how we can help those in need, and the week culminated with a food packing event on Friday.  Combined students, teachers, staff, and parents packed over 52,000 meals for Check out this interview with one of our kindergarten teachers which explains the week in more detail.

I've had two weeks to reflect on this experience I shared with my 25 first graders.  I had no idea before we did this that existed and was based in Charlotte.  Seeing images of children who had already been helped by this organization truly touched me.  I can't imagine living in the conditions these children and their families face every day.  I could tell by the reactions of my first graders that they couldn't imagine such immense need either. 

When it came time to pack the food on Friday, my thoughts pondered  whether my first graders could stay focused for almost an hour on this task.  Each student had an assigned spot in an assembly line.  Well my teacher worries were wasted because my students were awesome!  They took pride in their work, and they loved doing it:)  I think they could've gone longer, but we were on a strict schedule to make certain that every student in our school had the opportunity to help.

I'm grateful that this happened at a busy time in the school year.  Poverty Action Week reminded me that the bigger purpose to every thing we do at our school is to share the Gospel.  To have the chance to serve with my first graders is something I will never forget.  What I want most for my students is for them to develop compassionate hearts.  Poverty Action Week gave them the opportunity to put their compassion into action. 

At a time when the news is full of tragic stories, our St. Matthew Wildcats were doing something good.  I hope you'll check out

As always, thanks for taking the time to read.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Shiny Things

Summer is winding down.  I'm busy running errands, finishing tutoring, and preparing for my last vacation before school. I will leave for Philly the following evening to see family, friends, and my Phillies.

I run to the store to pick up something for school.  My trip in and out goes seamlessly.  As I open my back door to put my school supplies in my back seat I pause.  There's something shiny where it shouldn't be in my driver side rear tire.

My mind starts racing back to last August.  In a short period of time, my car broke down four times, and the repairs totaled $1000.  It took four times and two different repair shops to figure out what was really wrong with my car and get it running consistently again.  With each breakdown I experienced stress.  If my friends and family hadn't been there for me to help with rides, I don't know what I would have done.  I can walk to school if I have to, but I'm not an early bird so adding in the extra time to get there can be stressful.

I pause, take a deep breath, and take a closer look at my tire. "Ellen, don't freak out," I think to myself.

The shiny thing in my tread appears to be a safety pin.

"Great! I can't ever seem to find safety pins at home or at school, but when I don't need one this happens," I grumble to myself.

I'm supposed to go out with a couple friends for lunch so I head back to school to let them know I need to take my car to the shop.  My friends manage to talk some sense into me.  We don't hear any air and decide it can wait till after lunch.  They are both willing to take me anywhere I need to go.

We had an awesome lunch.  I take my car to the shop afterwards and another friend and her daughter meet me at the shop to help me in my classroom for a couple hours.

Now I imagine at this point you're wondering, what happened with the tire...

The pin had not even penetrated the tread.  My mechanic checked it out to make sure it was OK, and it didn't even need a patch.  No charge.

This simple car repair or no repair incident got me thinking.  What if I hadn't spotted the pin?  What if I had continued to drive it and damaged my tire?  What if the tire had stopped working when I was on the highway?

Then I started thinking about my first graders.  As another school year approaches, I am wondering about my new students and what they will need.  This tire pin reminds me that I need to be alert, and looking for those shiny things, those red flags, those indicators that my students need me to change direction.

Teaching is all learning.  I didn't understand that when I started, but thanks to my PLN, I am actively learning every day.

I'm very determined to become better at meeting my students' individual needs with every school year.  It's imperative to me that my first graders explore their passions and use their gifts in the context of our school day.

I want to make sure I don't miss the pins in their tires.  I want to recognize when they need a checkup or when they need someone else to take a look at their progress.

I realize I'm only one person, and I might not spot every pin.  But I know there will be fewer flat tires to fix if I make a concerted effort to keep my eyes open.

Since I started blogging, I realize I see the world differently now.  I know some of you may be chuckling that I got all of this from a pin in my tire.

I'm super grateful to those of you who got me started on this journey.  Those of you pushed me to start writing.  Those of you who reassured me that I had nothing to fear and everything to gain.  I've grown so much because of your support and encouragement.

I can't wait to see where the path takes my first graders and me this school year.

As always, thanks for reading.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thank You, Mo Willems!

We all talk about reading.  We all talk about teaching reading.  We all talk about improving our reading instruction.

What I have known for a while but not said out loud is that the best way to improve my reading instruction does not involve curriculum objectives, basals, or technology tools. The best way to improve my reading instruction involves finding more time for my students to read on their own.

I had an experience last week that showed me how wonderful individualizing reading can be.  This experience showed me that I need to create more opportunities in class for my students to love reading.  These opportunities would have to be individualized to be the most effective.  I need to pump up my independent reading time to a whole new level.

One of my students from last year read to me via FaceTime last week.  She is currently visiting her grandparents, and I had suggested the idea because I thought it would be fun for her.  What I didn't anticipate is how much she would teach me in that hour.

I watched her read with gusto Pigs Make Me Sneeze!, I Really Like Slop!, and I'm a Frog! by Mo Willems. The time flew by as she showed me funny details in the illustrations.  I was surprised at how easy it was for me to help her when she got stuck on a word.  (Thanks FaceTime for making that possible:)  She showed me her office that she had created which included a picture of her family and plenty of sharpened pencils.  We had a wonderful visit while she shared her love for Elephant and Piggie with me. She introduced me to her grandparents' cat, gave me a tour of their home, and showed me her two pet tadpoles who were 2 days old.  Caring for tadpoles and reading I'm a Frog! about perfect ways to personally connect with text:)

I need to figure out how to take the magic of what she and I experienced and infuse it into my whole school year.  We weren't reading because we had to.  We were reading because we loved reading.  I didn't have to assess her.  My only goal was to encourage her.  Her only goal was to have fun reading with me.  No workbook, app, or sight word game could have created such a magical learning moment.

I'm publicly promising that I am going to make it my mission to create these kinds of moments in class for all of my first graders in her honor.  I was blessed to be her teacher, and I'm grateful to have had this unforgettable learning experience with her as well.

I can't wait to see what this school year brings.  I can't wait to see what she'll be reading next summer.

Thank You, Mo Willems!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What Love Looks Like

When I was a little girl I saw love as finding my Prince Charming.  I knew my parents loved me and my extended family loved me.  I learned from my parents that God loved me. But it wasn't until I lost both of my parents that I began to understand what God's love felt like.

Two summers ago I was at a Phillies game (shocking I know:) and had the opportunity to talk with one of my favorite former Phillies, Justin DeFratus, about C.S. Lewis.  I was nursing a broken heart that day because of a failed attempt to find closure with a former boyfriend.  Justin didn't know this when we talked. Justin asked me if I had ever read C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves.  I told him I hadn't, but that I would soon because I would have time to read it over summer vacation.  After talking with Justin, I decided to buy that book for my Kindle, and I started reading it immediately.  I will forever be grateful for that conversation because that book improved my mindset on what love looks like.  It has allowed me to leave my desire for a family of my own in God's Hands, and to thank God for all He has given me.

One of the ways I experience unconditional love daily is from my cats.  For most of my adult life I have had 1-3 cats as pets. I recently joked with one of my best friends that I'm determined to redefine the stereotype regarding single women and cats.  I told her I was going to make it a cool thing to be a cat lady.  I was going to make it so cool Beyonce would want to sing about me.  Just picture Beyonce singing "All the Single Cat Ladies:)"

My cats are my family.  When my Mom had to sell our family home after my Dad passed, our family cats Rusty and Midnight came to live with my cat Sarah and me.  Sarah was a huge help to me when my Mom passed away unexpectedly.  My cat Annie was the first positive step I took to move forward after losing my Mom.  My cat Cassie, who came to live with me most recently, sees no limits to how high she can leap.  Every day I am surprised by where she sits and how much she loves doing laps around my apartment.  Cassie has no reservations and no doubts. She's so confident she tried to sit on my top of my drying rack once. When she fell to the floor because it couldn't hold her, I think I was more startled than she was. Cassie just went back to exploring.  My cats have loved me through joys and triumphs and provided this teacher with more comic relief than I could possibly describe in one blog post.

Yesterday I had the impossible task of saying goodbye to my Annie.  My heart was breaking as it rained outside.  Annie had lived with me for 13 years. The cat who had come to represent sunshine to me was in serious pain.  What I recently thought was a food allergy had turned out to be cancer.  I had a very short amount of time to realize Annie had been suffering far too long, and I had to let her go.  I said goodbye to my sweet Annabella at home.   I was surrounded by the love of three close friends, and feeling the prayers of countless others.  A very kind and patient doctor helped me with this impossible choice.  It was an incredibly difficult and dark day.

 Afterwards, one of my friends drove me to the store so I could get some dinner.  She had invited me to have dinner with her family, but I knew it was important for me to face my grief, and to love on Cassie.  I knew I needed to take that first step forward so I would be able to teach today.  I watched some TV and was frustrated because my Phillies were in Chicago waiting out a rain delay.  If ever I had needed the distraction of baseball it was last evening.  Friends were texting me to make sure I was doing ok.  I was grateful for so much love, but the ache I felt was indescribable.

The game finally started around 9:30pm.  What I watched unfold seemed surreal.  The Dodgers had swept my Phillies over the weekend, and yet my Phillies had a sizable lead over the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.  As the game went on, I started to feel some peace.

My Phillies won last night 10-2. I know they had no knowledge of what I was going through, but it felt like their efforts were for me.  I started to believe that each day I would feel a little more peace.  I started to believe that the sun was going to shine again.

When I got to school this morning, my kids started showering me with love and concern.  One of my girls from last year had brought me a Charlie Brown and Snoopy statue.  Another student from two years ago dropped a sweet note on my desk.  One of my girls brought me a sunshine filled card, and one of my boys wrote a little story about how "Annie was with God's love." My friends and colleagues gave me hugs and encouragement as the day progressed.  I had lunch with two of my boys.  A friend and parent from last year dropped me a note and gift card for dinner saying how sorry she was to hear of my loss.  Everywhere I turned, people were lifting me up.  Everywhere I went today I felt sunshine.  This is a time in the school year when I usually wonder if my students are listening to me.  Today I saw that my students were listening with their whole hearts. Today I felt a little more peace.  I was reminded again that my calling is bigger than me.  I was given the gift of unconditional love from my first graders both present and past.

I am grateful for 13 years with my Annie.  I am grateful for her company, her love, and the joy she brought to my life.  I know when the time is right, I will bring home a new friend for Cassie.  In the meantime I am grateful that I have another animal to love after a long day in the classroom.  I am grateful for my current understanding of what love looks Cassie.

As always, thanks so much for reading.


An Angel To Watch Over Me: My Interview with Author Alan Brady

Everyone has a story. Part of my story involves the families of the children I teach. I've wanted to write about one of those famil...