Minnesota teacher is a remarkable resource for families

Judy Galbraith, formerly Farmington and west suburban public school teacher, has been a remarkable resource for families and students for 30 years. As the summer starts, I don’t know of a better family activity than checking out the hundreds of books her company, Free Spirit, has published and selecting several to read. Her books have helped youngsters and families with young babies through teenage years.

Free Spirit spokesperson Anastasia Scott told me that since its founding in 1983, Free Spirit has published about 400 titles and sold “just under 13 million copies so far.” Their books, mostly written by educators, have won many awards from parent and professional groups. (Learn more at www.freespirit.com.)

This began in 1976 when Galbraith started teaching for Farmington Public Schools. The district asked her to start a program for gifted and talented students. Several years later she was hired by Intermediate District 287, a consortium of 12 school districts that serves students from Eden Prairie to Brooklyn Center, St. Louis Park to Westonka.

Galbraith looked, but couldn’t find a book that would help gifted youngsters deal with challenges they faced. So, she wrote one, “Gifted Kids Survival Guide.” That’s gone through several editions and sold about 280,000 copies.

Some of her books are for younger children. “Teeth are not for Biting” and “Hands are Not for Hitting” each have sold more than 200,000 copies.

Free Spirit’s most popular book is “What Kids Need to Succeed.” Co-authored by Galbraith and the late Peter Benson of Search Institute, it has sold about 655,000 copies.

Some Free Spirit books are geared to students with special needs and/or their families, and educators who work with them. Some of them have been written by parents or students, such as “How to Talk to an Autistic Kid,” written by a 14-year-old.

One of my favorites was a book for students about people who succeeded despite some form of disability. That includes the man who did not read well, but founded Kinko’s Duplicating. Another example is the scientist who was the model for a character in the movie “Jurassic Park.”

One of Free Spirit’s strengths is that it keeps up with, and sometimes anticipates, trends in society. It has published a popular book by a retired judge on cyberbullying. Galbraith told me that the book helps youngsters understand “where your rights end and consequences begin.”

Free Spirit also published what may be the first survival guide for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youngsters. Galbraith explained, “We were very frank. We’ve received hundreds of letters from youngsters responding, sometimes agreeing, sometimes asking for additional help and guidance.”

Another of my favorites is the “Kids Guide to Social Action,” written by Utah teacher Barbara Lewis. Because the book is so popular, it’s been updated and includes an array of projects students did to help their communities and learn important academic skills.

Galbraith “reads every word before we publish it, surveys readers” and “welcomes ideas for books from parents, educators and kids.” Her website includes video interviews with authors, such as the award winning Nancy Carlson. Our children loved her books.

When I’ve surveyed educators about advice for families over the summer, the single most frequent suggestion is read to and with your youngsters. Free Spirit is a great asset for families wanting to follow that wise advice.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org

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