This is an all literacy weekend!
I climbed in the car and cranked up the Hamilton soundtrack (followed by a little Ella Fitgerald) for the drive to Maine. Traveling alone means I’m temporarily not responsible for other human beings, which is liberating in itself. It also means I can belt out showtunes without harming anyone else. I was feeling sassy, singing and swaying to “Satisfied” in my Subaru, then belting blues-y Ella.
My anticipation was approaching a fever pitch as I pulled up to Morse Street School in Freeport. You see, authors still feel otherworldly to me. And here’s this little school tucked in behind L.L. Bean. I mean, of course tourist towns must have schools, too, but actually seeing them is a little like seeing through the Mist for the first time.
I wasn’t sure quite how the Author Night would work so I arrived just as it was beginning and took a slow lap around the Gymaterium (new word). I felt my excitement nearly ready to bubble over. Do you KNOW who was going to be here? My nerves settled down to a soft simmer as I glimpsed many familiar book covers around the edges of the room. Some kids were already sidling up to authors, parents in tow. I overheard a few teachers exclaiming over books they scored for their classes (or themselves). After a full lap at arms length, I was ready to engage.
I stood tentatively behind a girl and her mother, waiting for my turn with the author of Piper Green. I shifted awkwardly from foot to foot as Ellen Potter chatted with the girl. How did this work? I knew the books were for sale. Surreptitiously, I tried to figure out how the mother was paying for them. I quietly unzipped my wallet to retrieve the cash I’d brought for just this purpose. I was going to have to say something when it was my turn. I waited without coming up with anything worth saying. I tried to look less awkward by browsing the books on the next table over. But I felt bad scanning the books without saying anything to the author.
Finally I asked, “How did you ever get started writing about the ocean?” It was the start of the most pleasant conversation, not at all awkward and hero-worship-y like I’d feared. She mentioned her underwater photographer who worked with National Geographic, and I thought, “It couldn’t be…could it?” Turns out, we know someone in common. One of her photographers is a family friend. We were both swimmers at Colby. By the end of the conversation I had to know more about giant squid, so I asked for a copy of one of her books. Like a sunken treasure.
By the time our conversation wrapped up I turned back to Ellen Potter and the line was gone. Now there was just one young boy–maybe 7–chatting with her about Minecraft of all things. In his mind, he was the expert here with countless Minecraft achievements. These authors were just people after all.
I continued down the aisle of tables in much the same manner, chatting comfortably with the authors of Andy Shane and Ballpark Mysteries. Jennifer Richard Jacobson signed a book to a third grader who three weeks ago insisted he wasn’t a reader, but recently finished one of her books. (I can’t wait to hand it to him!) She shared that a new edition will be coming out with multiple Andy Shane titles bound into a single volume. Finally, striving readers will be able to carry around a “big book” that looks like everyone else’s! Maybe that shouldn’t matter, but I think it will be powerful for those readers. I also had that third grade friend in mind when David Kelly signed the mysteries.
Let’s be honest, I was awestruck by the authors. But I was gobsmacked by how easily the young readers interacted with them. A post-event conversation with another teacher from Massachusetts made me realize why that was so surprising to me.
Jason said, “We never saw authors when we were kids. Now, I have authors come to my classroom every year, we Skype, I meet them at events like this and we’re friends. But when we were kids those things didn’t happen.”
And he was right. Maybe that’s why the 7 year old could boast at length to an author one Friday night in his school gym, and I’ve seen Lynda Mullaly Hunt three times before I asked her to sign copies of Fish in a Tree and One for the Murphys. What was I waiting for? When she heard I was a teacher, she sent me off with armloads of swag to share at school. (The swag wasn’t the point, but she was so nice!)
At the end of the evening I was able to catch a picture of all the authors before they headed out and we packed up the remaining books.
Afterward, the event team met nearby for a snack. I got to tag along with my new nerdy friends. Our table was alongside the table of authors. And on the way out one woman extended her hand and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Nancy. Thanks for your work.”
I assured her I was just tagging along, and feeling very lucky.
“Well, thank you for tagging along then,” said Nancy Tupper Ling.
No. Thank you.
Late tonight I am one baby step closer to feeling like authors are real people. People who may know someone I do. People who feel grateful, like I do, for opportunities to share booklove with others who care. People who appreciate teachers for reaching students. People who enjoy a little snack and a good conversation after a nerdy book event.
And feeling like authors are ordinary people, means just maybe I could do that, too…And so can my students.