Never Forget Eleanor

by Andy Gallegos, Early Literacy Librarian at Arapahoe Libraries, 2024 CLEL Bells Committee Member

The CLEL Bell Awards have been given to children’s picture books since 2013. These awarded books are determined through the meticulous scrutiny of the CLEL Bell Committee. With so many amazing picture books that get published every year, this can be quite a daunting task. Every book that gets suggested will not win. It’s a sad fact that the committee must face when discussing criteria, content, and, ultimately, making tough decisions.

Among the more than 300 titles that have been submitted so far in 2023, a book came through the CLEL Bell Suggestion form that caught my attention. Does it exemplify at least one early literacy practice? Yes! More than one practice? Yes! Will it win one of the award categories? We’ll find out! What I can say for sure is that this title (like many other picture books out there) captured my heart. The book in question is “Never Forget Eleanor” written by Jason June and illustrated by Loren Long.

When first reading through the story, I put on my purple (very important detail) CLEL-Bell glasses to spot the early literacy practice. My team is focusing on “Talk”, the practice of talking with young children, encouraging conversation, and using language in all its forms to express oneself. While meeting with the TALK Team, we found ourselves asking questions such as: Is talking happening in the book? Would a child be encouraged to talk while reading with a caregiver? Do the illustrations demonstrate conversation? Is the text styled in some way to make it easy to determine who is talking? Does the book support pre-reading skills? Does the book encourage further interaction beyond just reading together? Okay, I think you see what we’re trying to find. Now, let me take those purple lenses off for a moment.

Back to that capturing-my-heart tidbit. “Never Forget Eleanor” shows signs of a CLEL Bell title AND what has really got my attention is the topic of the story: memory loss.

There are many challenging topics in our world, and this is one that lots of folks can relate to, including myself. Whether it’s someone in your close circle, someone in your friend’s circle, or maybe even yourself, memory challenges can affect an individual as well as the individuals around them.

Putting those lenses back on, “Never Forget Eleanor” feels like it aims for a slightly older audience with the amount of text on the pages and the topic at hand. But those purple lenses keep sliding down to the tip of my nose as I think about how memory loss doesn’t discriminate. A caregiver may want to explain to their young child what is happening to a beloved family member and sharing a picture book may be the approach that helps with the process. Memory loss can be a scary reality to think about and being able to find a connection and relate to a story might be the step to moving forward. 

To know if this book will be a contender for a CLEL Bell Award this year is still up for committee discussion. What is clear, however, is that books can be meant for someone and when that someone finds the book written for them or geared for what they are currently going through, it can help bring everything into focus. Even if they don’t have purple CLEL Bell glasses.

When a child has the opportunity to see themselves in a story, get a glimpse of what is involved in someone else’s life, or immerse themselves in an experience that is new to them, the impact is immeasurable. Young children are building their knowledge of the world every second of every day and books can be the tool that helps remove any barrier that might be in their way. Early literacy informs the decisions for the CLEL Bell Awards. But when a caregiver shares a story with a child, they are doing more than simply informing; they are likely unlocking the world.

Andy Gallegos (he/his)

Born and raised in Arizona, I moved to Colorado in 2022. Early literacy became one of my instant passions right out of school and storytime may be my all-time favorite activity in the world. When not doing library things, you’ll find me listening to music, baking something sweet, and spending time with my partner and 4 fur babies (2 dogs and 2 cats).