Everybody Needs a Rock, A Graduate Program Colloquium Project

Everybody Needs a Rock, A Graduate Program Colloquium Project

This piece was written by Natalie Akers, a current IslandWood Graduate student.



IslandWood graduate student, Natalie Akers, with a School Overnight Program student at Mac’s Pond.

“Everybody needs a rock.” – Byrd Baylor


“Decide to have a good luck charm because it’s good to always have a little symbol or something to look to remind you that you’re ok.” – Jason Reynolds


Inspired by Byrd Baylor


I first encountered Byrd Baylor reading her book, “The Other Way to Listen,” to a group of School Overnight Program 5th graders on a night hike. The story centers on a child’s journey to listen to the hills sing. Halfway through reading aloud, I realized I was going to have to muster a melody to match the text (A familiar feeling to bedtime orators?). I sang high and low pitches mirroring her lyrics: “Hello Hills, Hello Hills, Hello Hills…Hello.” For the remainder of the week, my students did not stop singing the tune.


I drove home that night imagining how magical Byrd’s texts would be as audiobooks. Each of Baylor’s poetry and picture books draws on her experience living and learning off-grid in Arizona’s southern deserts (ancestral lands of the Tohono O’odham) to give students frameworks for building their own relationship with the natural world.


My favorite is Everybody Needs a Rock. Baylor prompts readers to bond with a single stone by giving ten rules for collecting a “special” rock. Tips include “always sniff a rock” and that “it should look good by itself in the bathtub.” As a piano teacher, I’ve resonated with the book’s groove-forward and poetic style. So, when it came to designing a technology-based teaching tool for the “Technology Into Practice” graduate course at IslandWood, I brought the idea to life.



Natalie, with a School Overnight Program student, looking at micro-invertebrates found during a pond exploration lesson at IslandWood’s Mac’s Pond.

The Making of Everybody Needs a Rock


I enlisted the help of my partner (and some audio engineer tools) to make this mini audiobook. At first, I read the book at the piano while simultaneously improvising the piano part. We used this first free-from session to find melodies and grooves that we later produced as individual tracks before stitching them together.



Next Steps


I imagine this project within a series of read & sing-alongs accompanied by curriculum. “Everybody Needs a Rock,” for instance, ends with a prompt for students to play a game for just one rock. With my students at IslandWood, we adapted a version of the Indian folk game, five stones, to play with our rock collection. I also often read it before encouraging students to find their own rock to become a good luck charm (inspired by Jason Reynolds – National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature – Write. Right. Rite. Series).



Perhaps families will find it inspiring to listen to the short audiobook (~15 mins) in the car on the way to collecting rocks at the park. I hope the artifact honors Byrd Baylor who passed away in June of 2021. And ultimately, that it serves as a mediating device for listeners to take a closer look at the world we walk on.



Learn more about IslandWood’s Graduate program in partnership with the University of Washington here.  


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