Monday, April 30, 2012

The Readers are Bigger in Texas

      I don't mean literally in Paul Bunyan sized humans. However, The Readers are Omnivorous in Texas just didn't seem as catchy.

      As you can probably tell, I've been out and about. Yay!  Writing is a lonely business, so it's always a good week when I can get off the laptop and remember why I do this crazy writing thing...people read books.  School visits are my favorite form of recreation.  I was thrilled when one of my publishers invited me to be part of a panel discussion at the Texas Library Association Convention in Houston last week.  The double fudge icing on this cupcake of literary delight was a second invitation to participate in the Beth Yeshurun Day School's Annual Young Authors Celebration.

    Never have I been in a school where reading is as revered by the students as it as at.  In no small part is this due to their Wonderlibrarian Monica Woolf and her hardworking band of parent volunteers.  Monica not only a master at instilling a love of reading in her students, she is also the driving force and program planner for the Celebration.  Beth Yeshurun is blessed to be able to invite a group writers to talk to their students for this annual event.  This is underwritten by the Deborah Komorn Baruch Foundation, established in her memory by her family. Deborah was a teacher and writer herself.  Her spirit lives on in the literary lives of today's students, thanks to her devoted family.

This year there were eight of us invited to the Celebration: Kelly Bennett, Chris D'Lacey, Adam Gidwitz, Mehrnas S. Gill, Natascha Gotesky, Lincoln Peirce, Coert Voorhees and your truly.

When I say reading is revered at Beth Yeshurun, I am not exaggerating. My fellow authors and I had audiences spellbound. I managed to sit in on most of the other presentations, and those kids listened with an intensity I have never seen in all my years of school visiting. Yes, we were all writers experienced in speaking to kids, but I am willing to bet that all four of us have done similar presentations in schools only to be met with squirmy, indifferent audiences.

I don't know about the other authors, but I knew that most of my audience hadn't read my books or had the faintest idea who I was. I know, because I always ask.  (If the students haven't read Yankee Girl or Jimmy's Stars my presentations contain all kinds of spoilers...which I quickly skip over.) My experience has been that the hardest groups to talk to are those who haven't read my books.  They have no prior connection to this person talking.  Yet the students of  were just polite and orderly (most schools can guarantee me that much). No matter who was speaking, or what age group was listening, I could literally feel the kids leaning closer and closer to the speaker, eyes wide, intent on soaking up every syllable we uttered. I can't speak for my fellow writers, but every now and then I get that sort of response from a student of two (usually one who tells you that they are writing a book, too). Never have I felt such an aura of respect and interest from each and every student.  I can only imagine that this sort of reverence was instilled not only by Ms Woolf, but from their teachers and parents as well.

As I said goodbye to Ms Woolf that day, her mind was already spinning with ideas for next year's Celebration.  If any of you are ever invited to participate, consider yourself honored, and prepare yourself for a school visit of a lifetime.

My next stop was the Texas Library Association panel on female fictional characters.  I am used to presenting at conferences where the audience consists of a dozen or so people who couldn't get into the "big name author presentation" going on across the hall at the same time.  I was shocked to see the size of our panel space...until I realized that one of my fellow presenters was Sara Pennypacker, author of the Clementine series. We were the Big Name Attraction (at least for that hour)

The day we presented was also Young Adult Day at the Conference. Busloads of high school students roamed the exhibition floor, scouting out the publishers who were giving away Advanced Readers Copies.  Outside the exhibition area you could see groups of teens, flopped on the cement floor, surrounded by piles of ARCS, reading, swapping, totally engrossed in their books (and totally oblivious to people like me who kept tripping over them).  But what the hey...they were reading!

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1 comment:

Carmela Martino said...

Glad you had such a terrific experience, MA (even though I'm a little green with envy. :-) )