A lifelong love of reading

At left, Iris Vann, 97, a former elementary school teacher in Shenandoah County, and Laura Wade, a retired Sandy Hook Elementary librarian, look over children's books by author Tasha Tudor, who lived in Vermont and died in 2007. Wade recently visited the author's 1830s-replica home, which is now a museum, and got Tudor's son to autograph a book for Vann. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG — When Iris Vann started teaching in 1939, she taught at a little one-room schoolhouse in Fort Valley. Next she moved to a three-room school. Two of the rooms were for instruction, she said, and in her class she taught all seven grades.

Now 97, Vann recently recalled her years in Fort Valley and Toms Brook and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg. One of her favorite things was sharing her love of reading with her young students, and few authors were better equipped for the job than famed Vermont children’s book writer and illustrator Tasha Tudor.

“She was quite a person,” Vann said of Tudor, who died in 2008 and would have been 100 this year on Aug. 28. “I just loved that she lived a very ordinary life.”

Vann never met Tudor but said the author made a great impact on her and a generation of children. She learned about Tudor through her books, many of which contained the work of much-loved poets like Robert Louis Stevenson.

The first of Tudor’s books Vann discovered was “The Tasha Tudor Christmas Book, Take Joy! Songs, Stories, Poems. Things To Do For a Family Christmas,” by Philomel Books. Tudor combined the stories of other authors like Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Anderson and illustrated them. She also included songs, like “The Holly and the Ivy.”  Vann said it was that name that struck her interest, because it reminded her of the Christmas song “Joy to the World.”

At left, Iris Vann, 97, a former elementary school teacher in Shenandoah County, recites from memory a verse from Tasha Tudor's book, "A Child's Garden of Verses," as Laura Wade, right, a retired Sandy Hook Elementary librarian, listens. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It’s right to take joy and look for things you can be joyful about,” she said.

Tudor was only two years older than Vann, but she liked to live as if she had been born a century earlier. Born in Boston, Tudor lived much of her adult life in an 1830s replica house her son built for her on 200 acres in Marlboro, Vermont. The house was modeled after a friend’s home in New Hampshire.

Vann enjoyed teaching Tudor’s work to her students, but she also succeeded in sharing her passion with Laura Ellen Wade, the daughter of her best friend, a fellow teacher at Sandy Hook.

Still a fan at 65, Wade recently visited Tudor’s Vermont home, now owned by the author’s family and available for tours by restrictive, tough-to-acquire reservation only.

After noticing tickets were sold out in 10 minutes last March for a visit in June, Wade said she wrote to the family expressing her admiration for Tudor’s work and a desire to visit. She and her husband planned to be in New England anyway for their 25th wedding anniversary, and as luck would have it, a last-minute cancellation allowed the Wades admission to the museum home to meet the family.

Iris Vann

Wade and Vann have kept in touch through the years, so after returning from Vermont, Wade and her husband William brought Vann a souvenir — a copy of Tudor’s illustrations of Stephenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” signed by Tudor’s son, Seth.

Wade said she chose the book because Vann so often quotes poetry to her, and, on another recent visit, Vann did not disappoint, reciting lines from several poems and eliciting smiles from the Wades.

“I know all these poems,” Vann said. “I used to memorize a lot. I love to read, from the very first time I saw a book, and I just made myself learn.”

Wade, retired from the library at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said she enjoys other children’s books by Steven Kellogg and Jan Brett, but she places Tasha Tudor in especially high regard.

“I think the reason Iris and I love these is the innocence expressed in the children’s faces,” she said. The costumes also help bring the reader into a world not often experienced anymore.

Tudor famously said when she died she would return to the 1830s.

“She was so unique and I enjoyed learning about her life,” Wade said.

Vann, agreed, disclosing that she collected every Tudor book she could over the years.

“A good teacher will try to use any[thing] that she can to help those children learn to read and love to read,” she said.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com