Storytelling Roots; A Woman “Ahead of Her Time”
JOY MOSS, 1937–2021
Joy Moss was an extraordinary individual who left an extraordinary legacy. Talk to anyone whose life was touched by Joy and you’ll hear words of admiration and respect: Humble. Scholarly. Steadfast. A lifelong learner. An esteemed professor, master teacher, librarian, and author, Joy was beloved by all who knew her as a mother, colleague, educator, and dear friend.
by Karen LaFauci
July 13, 2022
Joy was born in the Midwest at the tail end of The Great Depression. Her father was a prominent rabbi; her mother was reserved and “radiated goodness.” She had two older brothers who adored her. Storytelling was part of Joy’s life from early childhood — her father shared stories passed down from the Judaic literary heritage and from all over the world.
Joy went east to college at Wellesley, where she earned a BA in psychology in 1958. She had always been interested in education, but Wellesley did not have a teaching program, so she majored in literature and psychology to feed her interest in people, literature, and life.
According to Joy’s daughter, Debbie, the thread that ties together Joy’s story is her strong belief in democratic ideals: “My mother grew up in a household that ran on democratic principles, where everyone had a voice and family decisions were voted on, with majority rules.”
“She was ahead of her time in fighting for equal rights for girls and women. This was demonstrated by her determination to play whatever games or sports her older brothers were involved in—notwithstanding age or size difference or even a broken collar bone sustained during a particularly rough game,” Debbie said.
In her young adult years, Joy remained an activist, advocating for justice and equal rights. She was active in the civil rights movement in the late 1950s in Pensacola, Florida.
“I now realize, my mother was advocating for these ideals for her entire personal and professional life,” Debbie observed. “And she modeled those ideals—those values—for each of us,” Joy’s son, David, added. “It was an extraordinary gift.”
While at Wellesley, Joy met and married Dr. Arthur Moss, a one-of-a-kind husband and partner for life who loved and supported her. “It was a fairytale relationship in which they were united in romance and purpose over their 60 years together,” Debbie said. Joy was deeply devoted to Arthur until his death in 2018. As David recalled, “Something…that was immediately evident and unmistakable to everyone who knew Mom was that her life was inextricably intertwined with Dad’s. They had separate identities—powerful identities—but also a common identity that was vital to both of them in so many ways.”
The Mosses built a life together in Rochester, where Dr. Moss was a cardiologist at Strong Memorial Hospital. They had three children: daughters Kathy and Debbie and son David. Joy’s oldest daughter, Kathy, recalls how enriching it was to grow up in a household where reading and storytelling were so central to family life: “Our parents would sit on our beds at night reading us stories or walking back and forth between our rooms, spinning their own made-up tales as they went.”
Joy returned to school to pursue graduate work in the 1960s, earning an MA in Elementary Education from the Rochester College of Education (now Warner School of Education) at the University of Rochester in 1969. She would ultimately become a respected authority on literature and literacy and reading comprehension strategies. Over the course of her career, Joy published eight books on these subjects. She also wrote dozens of articles for professional journals and authored numerous chapters for edited collections.
A Beloved Teacher, Librarian, and Literature Specialist at The Harley School
In 1969, Joy started teaching Grade 2 at The Harley School, where she parlayed her lifelong love of literature, reading, and storytelling into a rich experience for children.
Over the next 47 years, her role expanded to cross-grade reading teacher, literature specialist, and librarian. In her early years of teaching, Joy wanted to develop a literature-based reading program—versus using instructional texts—but there were no books and no school library. She created the Lower School library collection and curated it herself from scratch! Much like what she did for her own children, she also made up her own stories and copied and bound them to help students learn to read.
Joy developed a reading program for children in Kindergarten through Grade 4, encouraging them to discover the joys of reading and literature. Her goal, she said, was to provide the support and framework for students to become engaged, thoughtful, and independent readers and writers. As Joy would say: “Kids will rise to the occasion with big words and big ideas.”
Joy believed in using literature to promote critical thinking, to engage human sensitivity, and to help students practice using reading and thinking strategies.
“Mrs. Moss’s library existed as a constant center of inspiration, imagination, and magic; it has become iconic to every student who sat “crisscross-applesauce” on the floor while listening to Mrs. Moss bring that day’s book to life,” said Sarah Fink ’15.
Recalling Joy’s love of hummingbirds, Sarah observed: “Just as hummingbirds pollinate blossoms to ensure their ability to flourish, Mrs. Moss pollinated Harley’s young minds to share the joy of reading, writing, and wordplay. Joy Moss is, and will always remain, Harley’s quintessential embodiment of the joy that accompanies learning.”
Former students across the years sing similar praises. “Mrs. Moss was the kindest, most gentle woman. She read us stories and got us excited about reading,” recalled Rachel Pasternak ’99. “I can still picture how she shared book illustrations to the group in a slow, graceful arc around the circle so we could all enjoy them. She is one of the Harley legends.”
Today the Lower School Library has evolved from its humble beginnings to a beautiful space that houses more than 9,000 volumes, 4 computers, a Lower School library classroom, and story nook. It also includes a rocking chair in her honor, from which so many stories were told.
Joy spread her love of literature and reading in every corner of Harley. She initiated the tradition of Harley’s annual book fair and developed book lists with recommended reading for teachers, parents, and children.
“Joy was one of my absolute favorite teachers at Harley. She was kind, gentle, and helped me foster an early passion for reading.” commented Jennifer Barclay Newsham ’95. “Her library and rocking chair always made me feel cozy, cared for, and excited to immerse myself in the world of a new story.” “
Without Mrs. Moss, I wouldn’t be working on my Master’s in Library Science right now,” said Luisa Barbano ’11.
Students weren’t the only benefactors of Joy’s work; she developed a wealth of resources for educators. During the 1970s, Joy noticed a void in the Rochester teaching community. During a trip to London with husband Arthur—who had risen to be a world-recognized cardiologist and was there on a speaking engagement—Joy took the opportunity to visit several teacher centers. Soon after returning to Rochester, she organized the first Teacher Center at Harley, where area educators could gather to exchange ideas and attend workshops.
Over the course of her teaching career, the eight books Joy authored on literature and literacy proved to be invaluable resources for so many elementary and middle school teachers. She is credited with coining terms such as reading habit and focus unit. She spoke at local professional development days and presented workshops and courses at school district teacher centers.
“Joy knew that literature and literacy are intertwined,” said Terry Fonda Smith, P ’19, ’21 (Music 1994 to 2007; LS Head 2007 to present). “She brought collegiate-level comparative literature developmentally to the elementary classroom. She was the first to dive into diversifying the collection of stories that our children would read, and she carefully curated our library to reflect a diverse range of people and cultures,” she explained.
Terry cited several examples of Joy’s novel approach to literature-based reading. When Joy shared the classic fairy tale, Cinderella, she wouldn’t just read the standard version—she would also introduce the young readers to different versions of Cinderella from all over the world. Then she’d ask the children to compare and contrast them, opening a rich discussion about different cultures and consistent elements.
Joy’s “Friendship Unit” for Primary students—and how beautifully Joy’s understated demeanor complemented that lesson — is another example that stands out in Terry’s memory.“In her iconic wooden rocking chair, there was something so wise and grandmotherly about Joy. She was revered by students and colleagues alike,” Terry recalls. “She would sit in her chair and read the children a story about a new student who was being bullied on the playground. The students would react and say ‘That’s wrong! They shouldn’t be mean to her!’ This would open up a discussion about treating others with kindness and compassion.
Joy’s gentle, kind, soft-spoken manner reinforced that lesson,” Terry observed. Joy’s daughter, Kathy, shared similar observations: “Looking back, I can see how even early reader books like the Frog and Toad series in which Morton and Wharton have such a beautiful friendship and the way they take care of each other—presented examples of what my mom valued, of the magic that happens when we accept and befriend one another.”
The Joy F. Moss Lower School Library was dedicated in her honor in June 2019. A plaque on the library wall captures the magnitude of Joy’s work:
A beloved teacher, mentor, scholar, and friend who inspired our children to develop a love for quality children’s literature, opening their minds and worlds to explore, imagine, think, and discover.
An Esteemed Professor at the University of Rochester
In addition to her multiple roles at home and at Harley, Joy was an adjunct associate professor at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester. Highly esteemed by students and colleagues, Joy is often described as extraordinarily humble — to a fault, according to her peers.
“In spite of her many talents, there is one perceived area that needed improvement—modesty! She would never boast, brag, or tell you her many accomplishments,” said Marilyn Fenster, who first met Joy while a student in her education class, the Psycholinguistics of Reading, at the Warner School in 1973.
“Joy was my beloved colleague, mentor, teacher, and friend,” said Marilyn, who went on to become Joy’s mentee and a co-teacher at Harley. “When Joy saw a need, in her dignified, quiet, unassuming way—she made change happen. As a teacher, I gave up my planning periods to listen to her lessons, feverishly writing down as much as I could to learn more from her,” Marilyn recalled. Eventually the two women collaborated on a book that described how literature impacts literacy.
“Sweet and dignified, Joy demanded MUCH of her students ages five to adult by relying on theory and best practice to make the world accessible to all of us by introducing outstanding children’s literature that taught kindness, perspective-taking, empathy, values, respect for differences, friendship, conflict, ethics, courage, and exchanged points of view – from folk tales to legends, to fairy tales, biography, nonfiction Cinderella tales from around the world, Baba Yaga, and Prince Sparrow,” Marilyn said.
Joy tirelessly continued teaching at UR beyond her 80th birthday. As recently as the summer of 2019, she taught one of her most beloved and popular courses: Children’s Literature Across the World.
David Moss said people would often ask his mother when she planned to retire—to which Joy would reply, “Not yet. I still learn something new every day.”
“In the final years, when she had trouble walking—and she didn’t want to leave my father’s side because he was very ill—the students came to her, and she ran an amazing seminar with graduate students crowded around her dining room table,” David explained. “I found it especially moving, because it was the very same table that had been the center of our family life and where Mom taught my sisters and me so much. It’s where she taught me to read and helped me grow as a writer. I’ll never forget that.”
For Joy’s friend and colleague, Raffaella Borasi, former Dean and Frederica Warner Professor at the Warner School at the University of Rochester, one of her most special memories is from that time in Joy’s life “when her health was failing, but her spirit was still strong—and she knew how much she had to offer to the next generation of teachers,” she said. Together, Joy and Raffaella came up with the idea of having a small group of international students go to Joy’s house, which led to the graduate seminar around her dining room table. “The students’ experience of children’s literature had been so different, that looking at Joy’s books and hearing her stories was a novel experience for them—and in turn, Joy learned from them,” Raffaella observed.
A consummate hostess, Joy warmly welcomed the students into her home with a spread of refreshments, including coffee (she purchased a coffee maker just for the class), an assortment of teas, and her signature snack—little plates of cookies and fresh grapes. Ever generous with her time and energy, Joy served for many years on the Dean’s Advisory Committee at the Warner School of Education. Another enduring legacy is the namesake Joy Moss Reading Room on the first floor of LeChase Hall at the University of Rochester—a special place where children who participate in the Horizons Summer Program have access to a collection of children’s books in a quiet, cozy reading space.
The dedication plaque on the wall reads: For more than 40 years, Joy Moss has advocated for and supported children’s access to authentic literature as the primary context for literacy learning.
Yet another way Joy helped promote her lifelong passion—early literacy education—was by endowing the Joy F. Moss Education Scholarship at the Warner School. The scholarship supports elementary teachers who want to pursue additional certification as Literacy Specialists.
“Joy’s love for reading and instilling that in children was always evident. In addition to learning from her, through her scholarship I was able to pursue an additional certification in reading and literacy during my graduate studies,” said Carly Metzger, 2014 Joy F. Moss Education Scholarship recipient. “I hope I can live up to her legacy and pass on the passion of children’s literacy.”
“The Joy F. Moss Scholarship was a key factor, which made going back to the Warner School a possibility for me. I am forever grateful for Mrs. Moss’s generosity and kindness!” said 2013 Scholarship recipient Jameelah Hood, who as an ESOL teacher in the Rochester City School District has incorporated the reading and literacy practices she learned at Warner.
An Extraordinary Legacy Lives On
Joy died peacefully at home surrounded by family on March 14, 2021. She is survived by her three children, Kathy Lowengrub (Jeff Lowengrub), Debbie Moss (Keith Somers), and David Moss (Abby Rischin); nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Joy’s remarkable legacy will long be remembered.
“Joy Moss was indeed a visionary who loved books, reading, and teaching. She helped prepare many, many elementary educators and reading specialists, and positively affected the literacy learning for endless numbers of their students. Her influence will continue well into the future,” commented Carol St. George, Associate Professor, Teaching and Curriculum Director, Reading and Literacies Program at the Warner School.
“Joy was an extraordinary individual. It was clear from the overflowing gathering of friends and relatives (at her Shiva service) that her legacy will be equally extraordinary through everyone and everything she touched,” said Preston Faulkner, Executive Director of Warner Advancement.
“Mom was fun, she was selfless, she was full of love, and she knew what mattered,” said her son, David, in his heartfelt tribute at Joy’s Shiva. In her closing remarks at the Shiva, Joy’s daughter, Debbie, shared a statement from the Heroes and Heroines Focus Unit in one of the many books her mother authored:
The fact that a single individual can make a difference in the lives of others is a message inherent in a great many narratives written for children as well as adults.
“That’s certainly the message in my mother’s narrative,” Debbie pointed out. “She indeed was a hero, my hero. I feel blessed to have been raised by her, loved and inspired by her, and hope to continue her march.”