Thursday, September 20, 2007

Seas of Students and a Bay

I no longer have time to apply makeup: I'm blogging.
I meet Carol in front of my hotel Wednesday morning and apply my makeup (such as it is) in the car.
An hour's drive out beautiful highway 280 brings us to Stevens Creek Middle School in Cupertino, where Dennis Ronberg of Linden Tree Books has set up a morning with students and teachers. Lots of students!

I have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders in my first group. Punt. I sing ONE WIDE SKY, my Harcourt picture book. Jim wrote and recorded the music for ONE WIDE SKY and when I sing it, I've got those students with me, and we spend 45 minutes laughing and talking stories. I tell these younger students about how my maiden aunts in Mississippi scared me to death when I was little. I thought they looked like chickens. So I turned them into chickens in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER.

With the 4th & 5th graders, we find a microphone and set up my PowerPoint slides. I recite FREEDOM SUMMER as I show the artwork by Jerome Lagarrigue on slides in a dark room; you can hear a pin drop. I love this story, love sharing it with students. I love asking them to think about the stories they have to tell, about their history, what's happening in their world, and what do the think about that, and can they tell stories about it? I talk about the Aurora County novels as a string of stories that come from my childhood. I read from each novel. And then I sign books. Dennis has done a presale at Stevens Creek, and he now he handles the signing.

Here are some of the Stevens Creek teachers. I'd love to come back some day -- such a friendly school, so welcoming. For the most part, students weren't familiar with my books, so we went another direction, and I made introductions to me and my stories, to personal narratives, and tried to make connections with students' lives and stories
And here is Dennis Ronberg with author escort Carol Starling. Dennis and his wife Linda started Linden Tree in Tacoma Washington in the early 1980s, when they specialized in recordings for children. They first brought Raffi to the west coast as well as Sharon, Lois, and Bram and Fred Penner. I smiled, remembering those names and how much their music meant to me and my kids when they were little. I brought their records home from the library over and over again, along with "Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child" by Woody Guthrie.

Carol Starling was a river rat, leading tours down the Colorado River in 1970s. (For a great look at that life, rent the DVD "The Same River Twice.") Now she's (among other things) leading tours all over San Francisco -- for me, anyway. We stop for lunch at Rossotti's, a road house outside Cupertino that Carol loves. I'm a fan, now, too. I love the food, the people, the vegetation!


Is this a pear tree??

I know this is a eucalyptus tree.
"You want eucalyptus trees?" says Carol. "Just wait...."

We make a breathless dash back to San Francisco and scoot in under the appointed arrival-wire at San Francisco Day School -- gorgeous doesn't begin to describe this place -- both the building and the students and teachers.

A place is appointed for me in the library, in a comfortable chair with cut flowers on a round table next to me, and 80 3rd and 4th graders in front of me. They are deep into LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, so I begin there, and talk about using a notebook, about finding ways into story, about how I became a writer, ask them to tell their stories.
It's a low-key gathering compared to the morning groups which were much larger and where I did more of a performance but delivered the same message, although that message is always tailored to the particular audience I'm addressing. Just as it's important to read a bookstore audience, it's crucial to meet students wherever they are in the process of reading, writing, and particularly in the way they know your books or have never heard of you (and it runs the gamut). It's an interesting challenge. Sometimes I stumble. Sometimes it feels just-right. I tell these students that, in THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS, I write about my favorite baseball team of all time, The Los Angeles Dodgers. IMMEDIATELY, they all, as one chorus, shout "BOOOOOO!" Hahahahaha! I consider this just-right. Hello, you Giants fans!




Young Matt (do I have your name right, Matt?) wants to tell me something. He is thinking through his thoughts. Good. His teacher extraordinaire, Mr. B., stands nearby. Mr. B. is having his third graders keep SWIT journals this year: "Seeing What I Think." I am stealing this idea immediately. "Did you make this up?" I ask Mr. B. "E.M. Forester," says Mr. B.

That's Earl from Books, Inc., in the background. Books, Inc. is the oldest independent bookstore in California. They graciously set up this school visit on this tour and handled book sales. Thanks so much to Books, Inc, The San Francisco Day School, Linden Tree, and Stevens Creek for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to spend time with students.

I'm happy but beat! Kamakaze Carol drives me the back-way home. It restoreth my soul.

Carol is full of San Francisco history. She tells me about the 1906 fire. I refer her to Deborah Hopkinson's novel INTO THE FIRESTORM.

Carol shows me Alcatraz. Of course I must refer her to AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS by Gennifer Choldenko. Gennifer is a fellow Harcourt author with a new book out this season, too: IF A TREE FALLS AT LUNCH PERIOD. I'll get my copy while I'm on the road, I'm sure. Hey, Gennifer!

Two hours in my hotel room restoreth my soul as well, as does dinner with friends. New friends and old. Thank you to Walter Mayes for gathering us together -- we had so much fun and such a good meal, great conversation, a lovely wind-down to the long, lovely day. If you squint, you can see Walter in the background (don't you love our baseball caps?).

One does not usually have to squint to see Walter Mayes. Walter will be officiating at Jim's and my family wedding ceremony next Memorial Day weekend in Atlanta. We've alerted the media.

This morning: 9am, two school groups (that's Kathy Shepler, front right, and I'm gonna get to see her students, from AURORA SCHOOL -- how cool is that?) and then The Storyteller in Lafayette. At 1:45 a school visit sponsored by Hicklebees, and then to Hicklebees at 3pm. Y'all come. I haven't seen Valerie Lewis since we had dinner with a bunch of folks in Baltimore years ago.

Time to check out of this hotel, get in Carol's car, and put on my face.