I have renewed appreciation for librarians, media specialists and educators. Last week, I enjoyed a two-day visit to a library, middle school and conference in Ft. Lauderdale.
First, I had the great pleasure of speaking to some students from Walter C. Young Middle School in Pembroke Pines. The school has no library on site so students go next door to the Pembroke Pines branch of the public library.
The room where I spoke had been transformed into a political rally. Red, white and blue streamers decorated the walls, skimmer hats sat on tables, the podium where I spoke was decked out in patriotic colors, and there was a huge banner with my name spelled out the way my character spells obsessively in my book.
Ms. Robinson and Ms. Zelinsky are the masterminds behind the great decorations and creative planning.
I was greeted by 40 enthusiastic sixth grade girls with a few fourth grade girls thrown in for good measure.
Here's a photo of the left side of the room.
And the right side.
I signed books for some of the young ladies and was happily surprised when my first "Vanessa" came up to have her book autographed. "That's the name of the main character in my book," I said. She told me sometimes people call her "Nessa" just like the girl in my book.
Thank you students from Walter C. Young and Ms. Zelinsky and Ms. Robinson!
The next morning, I had the good fortune to speak to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at New River Middle School.
The school's media Specialist, Ms. Miller, woke at 5 am to make a special treat for the students -- Ms. Perez' Lemon Squares, from the recipe at the back of my book. Now that's dedication!
The students and staff made sure I felt welcome.
A couple of the students made dioramas based on my book. Here's one of them:
The students created book-related signs that they waved.
This was an interesting school visit because while I was speaking in front of these students . . .
. . . my talk was being broadcast live to students at several other middle schools.
Here's the TV where I could see the students at the other schools. There is a small camera on top. It was awkward to speak to a TV screen when I had actual students on either side of me, but the visit went extremely well. (Thanks to Joy for keeping the technology running smoothly; this included lending me her belt so I'd have something to hook my microphone to.)
My favorite part was the questions at the end. Many of the questions/comments came from boys. One boy said, "I just wanted you to know you inspired me. You're my role model." And another boy said, "I read your book. And it's my all-time favorite." Another boy told me how he loved the book, A Wrinkle in Time. I told him it was one of my favorites, too.
One of the questions was so thoughtful and mature. A girl at one of the other schools asked, "Did the fact that your father was absent from your home while you were growing up influence your book?"
Indeed it did. The father is absent in my book and the main character wishes for more time and attention from her very busy mother, which mirrors my childhood.
While students enjoyed lemon squares, I signed books . . . slips of paper, agendas ("Why didn't you fill in your homework assignments?!"), etc.
After that delightful visit, Karen Williams, awesome librarian and my host for the day, drove me to the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center. What a fabulous place! It's a great melding of art and literature.
There is a small round room with the words to the African-American National Anthem printed on the walls along with artwork. The acoustics are designed for people to sing in that room. I was given a special tour from Larry Holland, Library Specialist. He took me into the room with the special collections, including memorabilia from Esther Rolle.
When we were leaving, I noticed a girl, maybe in 8th grade, carrying more books to the check-out desk than she could manage. The books were sliding off the top of her precarious piles. I smiled because it reminded me of me at that age.
After a lovely introduction by Nadine Robinson, I got on stage and spoke to an auditorium full of awesome librarians, media specialists, educators, etc. for the 22nd Annual Conference on Children's Literature.
It was so much fun. What a great group of people. I have Gina Moon, Youth Service Coordinator, to thank for inviting me to participate in this wonderful program.
A huge shout out to the fine folks in Ft. Lauderdale, who made this children's book author feel a teeny bit like a rock star.