Nancy and Michael van Breda have been collecting reader figurines for over 20 years. Collecting readers has been a labor of love and one they plan to continue. Here is the story of how the collection began.
Nancy was an elementary teacher in Richardson ISD for twenty years. Michael was an accounting professor in the Cox School of Business at SMU for 32 years. They are both retired now.
When Nancy came to Texas with Michael in 1981, her classes were racially very diverse. The textbooks and most children's books were illustrated with white children at that time. Many of the children in the classes were not encouraged to read, did not have books at home and were not read to by other members of the family. Michael and Nancy kept thinking of ways to help these children see themselves reading as a joyful, rewarding and important activity.
Then on a visit to New Orleans Michael found a figurine of a young African American girl sitting in a comfortable chair with a book. Nancy put it on her desk at school without comment. One student studied it and then another. By afternoon, most of the students had noticed it and one brave child asked about it. Nancy said it was a present from her husband and would the child like to put it on her desk tomorrow. It was passed around during the following days from desk to desk. A few weeks later, a parent saw it and brought in a figurine of a white girl sitting in a comfortable chair with a book. The search was on to find more readers. The PTA helped and friends joined the search. By the end of the year, four reading figurines had been found. The next year the collection extended to adults reading and then animals. Benjamin Bunny was found in the Lake District in England standing on a pile of books and Pooh Bear was caught reading a letter. Many of the pieces were discovered on trips to other places.
Twenty years later Nancy and Michael van Breda donated their collection of 110 readers to the Fondren Library Center where they will eventually be housed in the new Children's Area following the upcoming renovation. The collection accomplished the goal of providing role models experiencing the joy of reading. Nancy and Michael hope that the gift of their collection will continue to inspire generations of young readers for years to come.
The Fondren Exhibits Committee is charged with providing educational exhibits for the SMU community that showcase special events, academic areas and individuals associated with the SMU campus.