Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Joys of Visiting Authors

It is my goal to bring at least one author to the school each year so in my eleven years as the school librarian I have met a number of different authors. It is fairly easy for me to impress the kids with some name dropping, even it is a name they have never heard before. It is fun to meet fellow book lovers, especially those who have written books that are on my list of favorites. Every author has important things to share with the students and with me.

Usually, I am a nervous wreck before the visiting author comes. This year I was much more relaxed. I knew things could go wrong but I also knew the author would take it all in stride. For once I could tell the students that not only was there a visiting author coming but that she was my personal friend. I have known Valerie Scho Carey since her daughter and mine were in first grade together, more than twenty five years ago. We go out for a meal together every so often just to keep track of what the kids are doing and to share ideas. Valerie is a brilliant woman who just happens to have a knack for writing picture books and retelling folk tales. When her very first book Harriet and William and the Terrible Creature was reissued this year, it seemed like the perfect time to invite her to talk to our students.

Even the wiggliest of classes settled down when Valerie began to tell them a story or read from her own works. The kindergarten and first grade classes have asked me about Quail Song several times since Valerie read it to them. Of course they loved the story but they also wanted to know more about how it came to be and to compare other stories. They are also eager to demonstrate a coyote wail for me. The third through fifth grade students enjoyed Tsugele's Broom in a presentation that was made more interesting by the inclusion of pictures of a shtetl. Valerie shared these to show us how her father's memories of childhood in shtetl inspired the story. I enjoyed listening to the students who came to her for advice on how to improve their won writing. Since Valerie has taught writing, she was the perfect person to ask about these issues.

It is indeed a pleasure to have had a friend come to speak as an authority on writing. She is an authority but I could relax and enjoy the presentations because she is also a friend.

There have been many other author visits over the years. Some were wonderful. Some were not. Here are a few of the highlights.

I will forever treasure the wonderful day spent with Naomi Shihab Nye that ended with driving her across the state and sharing a wonderful, relaxed, fun filled dinner with her. Now I not only enjoy her novels (especially Habibi) and her many volumes of poetry, I have that personal experience to read into every word she writes. I think that our students felt the same about her visit several years ago because they were writing poetry for many weeks and months afterward.

Mark Crilley was someone I frankly invited in large part because he lives not far away. I barely knew his books and had had only minor success getting students to read them. He brought his Akiko books to life for me and for every person who listened to him. It was like having a stand-up comedian with a highly polished act come to the school. The fact that we could read his books and learned about the writing process was a wonderful bonus. He, too, inspired many creative stories and fantastic illustrations long after he had headed home. I still can not keep his books on the shelves even though few of our current students were here when Mr. Crilley came but many have heard the legendary tales about him.

Christopher Paul Curtis is as nice, funny, and caring as the characters in his books. I take a little vicarious pride in being able to say that when he visited our school for the second time, he handed me his laptop for self-keeping, telling me that he had the manuscript for his next book right there and did want to risk losing it. That manuscript turned into Elijah of Buxton which is a book I think everyone over the age of twelve should read at least once. Mr. Curtis is a serious author, but he clearly still has a lot of joyfully young boy in him and he channels that into every book he writes.

There have, alas, been some real bombs. These authors will remain nameless here because I know they tried and their writing is much better than their presentation skills. However, I am still haunted by the man who scared several students with his somewhat cross-eyed stare. He drew derision from others when he dozed off almost in mid speech. Another author was just plain B-O-R-I-N-G. My daughter says that she can not remember a thing about that author's book other than that it nearly bored her into a stupor.

There is another author visit coming this year for our middle school students. Again, I am not too stressed. Will Purves is another friend and former co-worker who is eagerly awaiting the finished copy of his first young adult novel. He will be at the school in April. We are all hoping that big box of beautiful books will arrive before then.

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