Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hangin' at NCTE

I'm going to get to NCTE -- what a time, what a time. This is such a rich convention -- so much to learn. Before I got started at NCTE, however, I stopped at Books of Wonder, a fabulous children's book store in Manhattan, to sign stock. I've been wanting to visit for years, and here was my chance. I found out that the buyer, Patty Ocfemia, is also a singer/songwriter! I'm listening to her CD, Heaven's Best Guest, as I type this entry.

"Is it folk?" I asked Patty when she gifted me with the CD. "Aggressive folk," she said. Yes, it is. Roseanne Cash is quoted as saying, "Patty has a voice that is smoky, urgent, and real, and a songwriting sensibility that is unique." Yes.

After I signed stock, I ate a cupcake at The Cupcake Cafe in Books of Wonder and savored once again M.T. Anderson's STRANGE MR. SATIE, one of my favorite picture books of the last few years. I bought the book and then (if you've read the blog entries of the book tour, you won't be surprised), I left the book at Blossom, where my editor, Kate Harrison, and I had dinner on Friday night. Kate says she has located it and will send it to me. Thanks, Kate.

Here we are on the convention floor the next morning, me wearing my Mrs. Frizzle glasses -- got 'em in Iowa City earlier this month.

I finally got to meet up again with Alison Morris, children's buyer at Wellesley Booksmith, and good writer all-around. She wrote an introduction for me at BEA two years ago when LITTLE BIRD won the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award and I've been wanting to catch up with her ever-since, to thank her and to ask her for that introduction -- I collect good writing. Recipes, obituaries, essays, directions, book reviews, movie reviews (I love Roger Ebert), introductions -- there is an art to writing well, and I know when I'm in the presence of a Good Writer. Alison also writes ShelfTalker: A Children's Bookseller's Blog at Publisher's Weekly online. Same Good Writer, Same Good Writing.

Here's a cousin of mine I haven't seen for too many years, I'm embarrassed to say. Here's Jessica Weleski, all grown up and an English Teacher! It was so good to see her. We need a catch up. I hope we get one soon --

And one more group shot (just pretend I'm not in all of these; believe me, I don't want to post this many photos of myself) with teachers and writers -- that's Jo Knowles on the left (front), whose new (and first!) book is here -- LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL -- Yay! -- And Cindy Faughnan, fellow Vermont College alum and friend.

It was such a love fest on the floor... hmmm... I guess I'll share these photos, too -- here are heroes -- English teachers. I'd love to have their names, as we were having way too much fun to write them down, but aren't their faces -- their visages -- just fantastic? You can tell they are great teachers:

and one more:

This is not an English teacher. Big points if you know who the goateed fellow is. The redhead is his son. Bigger points if you know HIS name! Fun to see them again.

This (below) is also not an English teacher, it's Vivian Vande Velde, whose books I have enjoyed for years.

Vivian has lots of NCTE photos up at her site already.

So let me show you our panel for "Reading Like a Writer," the NCTE session I was part of. Here are Claudia Sharpe (left) and Sarah Ellis... was I in the presence of greatness or what?

I'm not surprised that we had a packed room with people sitting on the floor, etc., as these two women have quite the following. I must admit, too, that I felt flustered in their presence, and in the presence of All Those Fabulous English Teachers as I stood up to do my part... it might have been partly due to the fact that my Harcourt signing on the convention floor bumped up against our session at the Marriott Marquis, and I was literally running in the door as our session began. Couldn't find my notes. What to do? Punt. It was okay. I found the good chair palunka, the smiles and nods, and I was soothed as I spoke. What I wouldn't give, though, to spend time in each of those teachers' classrooms, watching them work. Oh, please, let me watch them work some day. I will bring my notebook! I will take voluminous notes! I will learn so much!

What we talked about in our session was helping young writers take apart a text (in addition to enjoying it) and discover how a writer writes -- what tools does she employ to tell a good story? How can we use those tools to improve our own work? That's what I have always done -- it's how I learned to write. I took apart the work of those writers I admired, and I modeled my own writing after what I admired, as I found my own voice and my own way. I do this still, today.
So that was some of Saturday. On Sunday morning, Jim and I found our way to the Vedanta Center of New York, and then to MOMA to see the Alexander Calder exhibit. Calder is one of my heroes. Jim and I had tickets to see Mulgrew Miller (one of Jim's heroes) at Lincoln Center on Friday night -- I was falling asleep on my feet by then but it was so worth it. What a genius is Mulgrew! What a band!

I'm going to find my way to a nap this afternoon. The cats have already settled around me. I didn't even tell you about the night walking tour of Brooklyn on Sunday night and... and... and... so much was packed into these few days. But time to turn forward. It's Thanksgiving week. I'm writing a eulogy this week for a friend's beloved dog, to be delivered at Thanksgiving... isn't that the most amazing thing? I'm writing it in the voice of Comfort Snowberger -- that's even more amazing. I'm honored to be asked to do this. More about this later, if friend Diane will allow me to share it with you.

My two youngest children, Hannah and Zach, both in their twenties, live here in Atlanta. They have declared their intention to make Thanksgiving dinner this year. More power to 'em! Let the mess, the mayhem, and the fun begin. As soon as I'm done with my nap.