As a children’s author, I find that the best professional development involves reconnecting with kids and teenagers whenever possible. And once again, the Young Alberta Book Society’s “Taleblazers” program afforded me that opportunity throughout October.
Taleblazers features a fall touring program designed to promote literacy by connecting authors, illustrators, and storytellers with students across the province.
This is my second year of Taleblazing and once again, I returned with my thoughts spinning over the many special moments along the way.
Memorable Questions: I am continually amazed by the thought-provoking and sometimes hilarious questions that students ask, such as–
- How many books do you think you’ll write before you die? (Ummm…)
- Are there any writers who you think of as your rivals? (Cue reality tv show… duelling authors…. pen mightier than the sword, etc, etc)
- Why is your last name so long? (I’ve always had this thing about hyphens–and putting together random names–especially when they have lots of–uh–F’s in them–and isn’t the Z at the end a sweet touch?)
The Terry Fox
Run READ: I met a lovely student in Bonnyville who WALKED the Terry Fox Run the week before my visit. This might not be unusual except that her ulterior motive was to finish reading Vanish. I’m happy to report that K., nose in book, successfully completed both Vanish and the Terry Fox Run without incident.
Moral Dilemma: Some of my books were stolen from a school library that I visited. While I don’t endorse theft, I admit to feeling a titch flattered. I mean, of all the possible books to steal, he/she stole MINE. (Does that make me a bad person?)
Lesson Learned: The group that shuffles, wiggles, and paces more than any other group EVER can also be completely tuned to you. Many thanks to the active and actively-engaged grade 4/5 students of Black Diamond for teaching me this!
Success Reveals Itself In Diverse Ways:
- when the too-cool-for-school-“here’s-a-special-insult-just-for-you” student leans in to catch everything you’re saying, then actively participates in the Q&A session at the end.
- when the student who physically can’t sit still voluntarily leaves the carpet to go and shuffle at the edge of the group–a strategy that he knows helps him listen better and retain information.
- when the unreadable teacher leaves off with her unfinished stack of marking, finally makes eye contact, and thanks you at the end of the presentation.
- when the shy student with speech problems summons up the courage to ask you a question and it’s a question that NO OTHER STUDENT has ever asked and that you’re DYING to answer. (“What else do you know about that mean teacher at the start of Vanish?” Love it!!!)
- when the students leave the library pestering their librarian to catalogue your books FAST because they NEED to read them RIGHT AWAY!
- when the special needs student seeks you out afterward to tell you her puppy story and to assure you she’d “worn her thinking cap” the whole time you were talking.
- when you receive waves and calls of “Bye, Karen!” as you drive out of town. [Related: the best way to meet friends in an unfamiliar small town is to present to the entire school. In this instance, the student population was 56.] Thank you, Veteran Alberta!
Best Answer Ever:
Me: So where do story ideas come from?
Grade four student: From the back right corner of your imagination.
Me: YES! *happy-dances* *wishes she had thought of that herself*
Small-Town Kindness: In Coronation–a small town in east-central Alberta–the clutch on my truck jammed. I was stuck and in the process of cancelling some upcoming visits when Dale of “24-7 Brigleys Towing” arrived on the scene. After tinkering with the clutch pedal, he soon uttered the words I’d abandoned hope of hearing: “Looks like you’re good to go.” And then he wouldn’t accept any payment because “It doesn’t really feel like I did anything.” Seriously. SERIOUSLY??? Hopefully Dale and his family are enjoying their signed copy of Dog Walker.
Despite the many “memorables,” the best thing about hanging out with kids is the kids themselves and their unique way of reminding me that what I do–the writing, the touring, the presenting–is important. I have made several career changes over the years, but all have focussed on trying to make a difference in kids’ lives. I can truly say that the students I met as a Taleblazer in October have, in turn, made a difference in mine.