A gander at Queen of Apostles volunteer Margaret Peiffer

First slide

Margaret M. Peiffer is the author of Henrietta and Henry, a self-published children's book awarded the Trafford Gold Seal and positively reviewed by the U.S. Review of Books. But Peiffer doesn't spend her days hobnobbing with literati. She spends her days serving Queen of Apostles School in Alexandria - and has for the past 18 years.

When the 33-year veteran of the federal government retired from her personnel job in the Office of the Controller of the Currency in 1997, she hoped to find a way to give back to the community.

"I'm not a person to sit and look at soap operas all day," she said.

So Peiffer, a parishioner of Our Lady of Victory Church in Washington, headed to a public school to apply for a part-time tutoring job.

"But when they said all you can use are flashcards, I was out," she said. "That's when I thought I'd try the Catholic schools. I've been Catholic all my life and the schools were familiar territory."

Peiffer found her place at Queen of Apostles, 10 minutes from her Alexandria home, under then-principal Mary West. She trained as a reading specialist and began working with children in kindergarten, third, fourth and fifth grades.

"I love reading and I love children," she said. "Putting the two together is sometimes challenging, but helping children is what I do every day. That will be my legacy."

When she isn't tutoring, she assists the current principal, Kathy Littlefield, with writing informational packets for parents and completing other tasks as needed.

Peiffer volunteers at Queen of Apostles every day from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., except on Tuesdays, when she ends at noon. Then she packs up and goes to Charles E. Beatley Central Library in Alexandria to teach English to adults.

Outside of volunteering, Peiffer enjoys what Alexandria has to offer. Her regular walks around Southern Towers, an apartment complex on Seminary Road, inspired her to pen Henrietta and Henry, which came out in March. "I saw a goose sitting on her eggs and I would talk to her every day," she said. "One day, I noticed that her eggs had broken, and that's what gave me my book idea."

Illustrated by Kenn Yapsangco, the story of Henrietta and Henry follows the lives of a mother goose and a father goose living in Alexandria. Their story teaches children about the habits of Canada geese and the basics of environmental stewardship.

In her review of the book for U.S. Review of Books, Anita Lock wrote, "Henrietta and Henry is not only a wonderful informational book on the life cycle of geese, but it also sets a powerful example on the effectiveness of dedicated parenting and community involvement in raising the next generation."

Peiffer's second book, Rainbow Love, now in production, plays on a few similar themes as Henrietta and Henry. It, too, stars animals and takes place in Alexandria. The book revolves around a chipmunk and a squirrel who spot a rainbow over Fort Ward Park. Through the animals' conversation, young readers learn the story of Noah's ark.

"Faith is the basis of my writing and my life," said Peiffer. "I want children to learn to take care of what God has given us and to protect the earth."

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015