Monday, October 8, 2007

The Community that is Belleville, Wisconsin

I want to say something important and erudite and meaningful about schools who bring authors in for a day to work with students, about students who respond to the call to tell their stories, about the good questions that students ask, about the teachers who prepare those students for an author's visit... but my brain won't function that well this evening, so I'm going to let these fabulous photos tell the story for me tonight, and then I'm going to get some sleep.

I'm in Belleville, Wisconsin. At lunch, students and teachers told me Wisconsin meant beer and brats, polka, dairy farms, 4-H, the North Woods, corn. Librarian Linda Schmitt obliged me and pulled off the country road several times for me to get these shots -- this countryside reminds me so much of Frederick County, Maryland, where I lived and raised a family for 25 years. I'm washed in nostalgia.

Linda is the only librarian for this K-12 school district -- I am stunned to learn this. There are three school buildings: a K-1 school, a 2-6 school, and a 7-8/9-12 building. The junior/senior high buildings share a library.

Kim and Diane meet me in the office -- what smiles! I'll be presenting all day in the high school auditorium. The 5/6 students and the 3/4s will walk over to see me.

I'll do three very different presentations today as I navigate a grade 3 through 8 spread. I love this sort of challenge. I love getting to know my audience in those first minutes, determining who they are, and bringing them along with me. I love the challenge of holding their interest, of asking them to think about their own stories, and the delight of telling them my story and laughing with them.

I look cadaver-like in the pose above! I think I am singing. Let's try again. Here I am holding my writer's notebook in my hands (squint and you can see it -- it's green).

Here are teacher Theresa, students Matt and Emma, moi, librarian Linda and public librarian Katie Aupperly. Matt is a fan who likes to cook; he entered some of his creations in the fair this year and got merit mentions! Emma is a quilter and has read LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER eight times. That's not a typo. I was so humbled... she said, "Every time I read it I find something in it I didn't see before." That's the mark of a discerning reader, I tell her. It's like listening to music and hearing the deeper layers... it takes paying attention. So much of the wonder of life is held in paying attention...

After a day at school, we headed to the public library, two blocks away, for an after-school event with THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS. "Don't expect a huge crowd," said children's librarian Katie Aupperly. But she's wrong -- we have a classy, cozy crowd of dedicated library patrons -- kids from school, some with their parents, all of us sitting around a table with cake and punch and Katie's special coffee.
"This is how small Belleville is," says Alex, seated at the end of the table. "We don't have a stoplight, either, just like Halleluia, Mississippi." The kids talk about how Belleville is like Aurora County and I can see they've made great connections with their own stories today.

Belleville may not have a Sunshine Laundry ("Send us your sheets!") like Halleluia, Mississippi, they may not have a birthday pageant ballgame like the one in ALL-STARS, but they have a UFO Day, complete with parade, and it's coming up on October 26.

They also have my heart. Community is what ALL-STARS is all about, of course, and it's what Belleville is about, too.

School librarian Linda and children's librarian Katie.

Look at the Banned Books Week display in this little library!

Close up of just a section:

Here's Chelsey, a senior at Belleville High, who volunteers at the library and is a fashion plate.

Here's the ALL-STARS cake that Katie had made for our ALL-STARS celebration. Isn't it gorgeous?

Enthusiastic readers and library patrons:

And here are two tired women at the end of a long day of work. When Linda brought me back to my hotel, Robin Hoffman of Scholastic Book Fairs arrived to take me to dinner. Robin lives in Milwaukee and works magic for Scholastic Book Fairs, connecting authors to teachers and readers to books everywhere. She drove all the way from her work day in Milwaukee to see me, and I was so glad for the dinner companionship and a catch up. Thank you, Robin.

More on Scholastic Book Fairs soon, but right now, my eyes are closing. Tomorrow is an early call: 6:45am. That's when librarian Chris picks me up for a day at Rome Corners Intermediate School -- all fifth graders tomorrow, and a very different day. I'm looking forward to it. And to some shut eye, right this very minute. I didn't say what I wanted to say about teaching and school visits and community and more, but I will. Maybe I'll have to do it from home... once I land for good. Thank you Linda Schmitt and everyone in Belleville for making this a wonderful story-filled, community-built day.