I've celebrated the 10th anniversary of one of my books (blessedly, still in print) each spring/summer for the past two years. In 2014, it was Yankee Girl (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). 2015 marked ten years for My Best Friend (Viking). This Wednesday, June 29th, First Grade Stinks! (Peachtree) hits the Big Ten milestone.
|Lily, off to her first day of First Grade|
My daughter Lily loved, loved, loved kindergarten. She adored art (her favorite subject), recess (tied with art), and "student chores" (watering plants, handing out paper.) Her classroom was a carnival of color; bean bag chairs for "share time," multicolored "learning" rug, plus bird and hornet's nests, seed pods, African violets, rocks, shells and other please-touch-me items. Soaring over it all, a Chinese dragon kite dangled from the ceiling.
Lily was a happy kindergartner. She had no reason to believe that first grade would be any different. If I had used my head, I might have warned her.
Off Lily went that first day, toting her new red-blue-and-yellow backpack. She sang along with Destiny's Child on the radio. At school, she swaggered through the doors. She had this.
At 2:30, a different little girl dragged herself to the car. She shrugged off her backpack as if it contained the weight of the world, and hauled herself up into her safety seat. Destiny's Child still sang on the radio, but they sang alone. Dead silence from the backseat. If Lily wasn't in a talking mood, I'd have to wait until she was.
At home, she slouched out of the car and up the walk. I opened the door and went in, Lily behind me. Slam! We don't slam doors in our house. Ever. I turned to see my daughter, back to the door, sliding to the floor.
"That's it," she shouted. "I'm never going back. Ever, ever, ever. I hate First Grade. First Grade stinks!"
Even as my Mom Brain lined up the words to tell Lily that she had to go back tomorrow and every day for the next twelve years, my Writer Brain thought, "First Grade stinks! What a great title for a picture book!"
As I listened to Lily's recital of grievances, I realized that at that the heart of it was First Grade is different.
There's a story there I thought.
Every day that year, Lily came home with yet another complaint. There was only one recess, not enough art, the kindergarteners had first lunch and took all the chocolate ice cream.
Lily survived First Grade, but just barely. I learned that her teacher was about to retire, due to ill health. All Lily knew was this: first grade is different.
With Lily's on-the-spot reportage, my book slowly took shape.
Now for those mysterious forces . . .
Mysterious occurrence number one. I submitted FGS to be critiqued at a writer's conference in Wisconsin. The editor who read it, loved it, and wanted a copy when we got home. Turned out she was from Peachtree Publishers and lived fifteen miles away from me. I doubt we would've found each other had we not gone to that Wisconsin conference.
Serendipitous occurrence--My fairy godmother/art director at Peachtree paired my words with Beth Spiegel's art. Beth found humor and detail with her illustrations that I hadn't noticed when writing. She is still one of my favorite illustrators.
Personal note--The original manuscript had only four named characters; Hayley and her best friend, Ryan, and the two teachers, Ms Lacey and Ms Grey. The rest of the characters had "names" like "Boy in Red Sweater" and "Girl with Cornrows." The day the book was to be typeset, my editor called, minutes before I was to meet Lily at the bus stop.
"I need names for these characters," said my editor. "Real ones. Not Boy-in-A- Sweater. Call me back in half an hour.
Those characters had descriptions instead of names; I stink at choosing names. Back then, I used baby name books for that purpose. (Now I use websites.) I didn't have time to thumb through a couple of books. I had a half an hour. My creativity's wheels spun in the mud as I trudged up to the bus stop.
The bus squealed to a stop. Thunk-thunk. The doors opened. I was still churning possible names as part of my brain automatically tallied the kids coming down the bus steps. Kirk. Erica. Sasha.
Hey, those are names! Chanting the chain of names, so I would remember them. I called my editor as soon as I hit the front door. Those first kids off the bus were thrilled they were "in a book." The kids who got off after the first five, complained "how-come-we're-not-in-your-book?" (Answer: You should've gotten off first!") Most of those "kids" have now graduated from college...and they still gripe about not "making the book."
Join me in celebrating First Grade Stinks' 10th anniversary. Please enter our Book Giveaway--details below. I will be giving away a signed, hardcover first edition trade hardcover. This edition is no longer available.
Here's the giveaway info:
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Please note: the TeachingAuthors team will begin our summer blogging break this Friday. Our posts will resume on Monday, July, 18. We plan to be able to announce the winner in that post.