I am lucky in so many ways. I grew up in the great state of Mississippi, my parents still live there, so I was able to attend the best book festival ever. The author line-up was a middle-grade teacher/author’s dream come true. Just look at that picture above. There’s me with Kate DiCamillo, and me with Jacqueline Woodson, and me with Irene Latham, me with Kathi Appelt, and me, my mom, and my blogger friend Keri with Augusta Scattergood.
Surrounded by such amazing authors and just plain smart generous people I felt amazing, smart, and generous. I also got brave. I realized early in the day that when you ask a question, a famous author knows you and likes you better.
I listened while Kate DiCamillo told stories that I had heard before (at NCTE 2015, on a streaming video with Mr. Schu, and on The Yarn podcast). But as she spoke and told her stories, funny ones that I never tire of hearing, I remembered on The Yarn interview that she said the only book she would consider rewriting was Tale of Despereaux because of its complicated plot structure. As a teacher of smart kids, I happen to love the structure of Despereaux. It makes for great conversations about craft. So I held up my hand and said that to her, face to face; she was looking right into my eyes.
And Kate said that the narrator in Despereaux guides the reader and guided her, too. Isn’t that a beautiful answer? When I stood in the forever-line to get her to sign my books, she knew me. Well, at least for that moment she did.
Kate (I can call her by her first name now since she knows me) left me with this advice as a fellow writer: “Write your Heart.” I have a WIP (work in progress) that is just that, my heart, so I am comforted by that advice.
With my new brave on, I asked Jacqueline Woodson a question, too. She talked mostly about her new book Another Brooklyn, but I wanted to know how she speaks to social justice through her picture books, specifically Each Kindness.
She told the story that led her to write Each Kindness. She was visiting her daughter’s 2nd grade classroom. A girl came in with striped pants on. Jacqueline admired her pants, but then she overheard another child tell this girl, “Why’d you wear those pants to school?” And the girl covered her pants with her jacket the rest of the day.
Jacqueline says you can’t be didactic with kids. You have to teach them through story, so she thought about how all of us at one time or other have probably said a mean thing that we could never take back. Each Kindness makes us think about what we say and the ripples our words may cause. I so admire Jacqueline for her social consciousness and for her gift of language.
Here is advice to writers from Jacqueline Woodson.