The past two weeks have been a whirlwind. Bloomsbury very generously sent me out on a book tour in support of The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, and I had a fantastic time. Now I wish I was someone who took loads and loads of pictures, but I always seem to forget, so these pictures may be random and sporadic.
First I flew into Philadelphia. All of my family is originally from this area, and I was able to meet up with my cousins for dinner. I took a picture here, but we all have scary eyes. This is a better one that my cousin took:
The next morning I was met by Joan, my author guide, who took me to two schools in the Philadelphia area. The first school was Radnor Middle School in Wayne, PA a suburb of Philadelphia. When we arrived, we were greeted by Julie of Children’s Book World in Haverford. She was amazing and so enthusiastic about children’s literature and getting books into kids’ hands. (A theme of this post is going to be that independent booksellers are fantastic.)
I got to try out my new What If? Presentation, which is all about getting kids to ask what if questions in order to come up with stories. I had postcards to bribe the kids to answer, but no bribery was needed. These kids were full of ideas. The classroom I visited is part of the integrated model in use at Radnor, which, as the name suggest, integrates the various disciplines rather than teaching them in isolation. It was exciting to see this kind of progressive teaching right of the bat, and if those students were any indication, this model is working.
After a lovely lunch, we went on to William Penn Charter School, one the oldest schools in the country. There I met with a group of lively fifth graders right after their recess. Luckily, fifth grade is my favorite (shh, don’t tell — I know I’m not supposed to have favorites), and we all got along swimmingly.
From there I went to the train station and rode on down to Washington, D.C. in the quiet car. Sadly it seems my motion sickness is carrying over to trains — or maybe this train was just particularly bumpy — and I couldn’t do the work I had hoped to accomplish. Instead I dozed.
I’m a little embarrassed that the only pictures I took in D.C. were in the hotel. But the Hotel Helix is a super funky hotel. The minibar had Pez and Pop Rocks, every room is equipped with a yoga mat, and instead of the usual white bath robe, they offer cozy ones in animal prints. I put it on right over my dress and took this picture:
In D.C. I went to the legendary Politics & Prose bookstore. Hero bookseller of the day: Kerri Poore. This time, the kids came to the store. Let me tell you, as a child, the words “We’re taking a field trip to a book store” would have been just about the most amazing ones you could utter. While I waited for the students, I spotted this on the shelf:
Abby Carroll and I went all through elementary and high school together, and she remains one of the most talented poets I know. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I found our 5th grade literary magazine and wish I could write poems like the ones she wrote as an 11 year-old. She has since become a food historian, and her first book Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal was published in 2013. If you are writing historical fiction set in the U.S. you need this book to get the food right. If not, it’s just a terrific read.
Anyway, these kids came prepared with questions that got me thinking about my own work in new ways. And as the crowd dispersed, my good friend Carolyn appeared before me. She said she had sent me a Facebook message, but I hadn’t seen it, so it was a wonderful surprise.
Car and I served together in the Peace Corps in Cote d’Ivoire. As we chatted it came up that Kerri had also been in the Peace Corps — small world. Although maybe not so small — many RPCVs end up in D.C.
From D.C. I flew to Chicago, and then made my way out to Naperville. This was the stop on the tour I was most looking forward to, not only because I got to spend two nights in the same hotel, but also because I was finally going to meet fellow Bloomsbury author Jessica Day George. We travelled with author escort Genene and Jessica gave me the front seat which was great because I get carsick. First we went to Holy Cross Catholic School in Batavia. Speaking to 200 3rd to 7th graders could be a challenge, but working with Jessica made it fun. And once again, great questions from the kids.
Next we drove to Elm Elementary School in Burr Ridge. I felt like I was driving through the neighborhoods of a John Hughes movie. Librarian Jill Berry marked our parking spot with these special cones:
This was a big group of 3rd through 5th graders. Now that we’d hear each other’s writing stories, it was easy for Jessica and I to play off of one another. We actually have a lot of similarities — imagining a world different than our own as children, for one — but these play out differently in our writing, with Jessica’s imagination in full technicolor bloom. I’m in awe of her world-building.
That night we went to Anderson’s Bookshop, another must-visit store for me. Our discussion was moderated by Pamela Kramer who reviews books for Examiner.com. The audience was peppered with girls for whom Jessica’s writing had been transformative, and to see how inspired by her they were made me so happy. I had my own surprise guests: the parents of another of my Peace Corps friends, Anne Gaven. Anne’s brother, coincidentally, runs the beekeeping shop where I took my beekeeping class.
After another night in the hotel, which had been taken over by kids and teens for a lacrosse tournament, I got to go into the city to meet my cousin and her family for breakfast. Then it was on to the airport from where I flew to Albany. (Travel note: Sometimes the “Express Bag Check” line at Midway is not actually express, and you end up carrying all your baggage on board and arrive to the gate as the plane is boarding.) My family picked me up in Albany — hooray — and we went to my in-laws house, home-base for the next week. My husband was there to pick me up but left the next morning to get home and pick up our package of bees.
I had a few days off before starting on the second leg of the tour, but I’ll save that for the next blog post.