When I last left you, dear reader, I had landed in Albany, NY where I was met by my family who sort-of let me sleep in for Mother’s Day. Tuesday I was back on the job.
Earlier this year I had a great Skype visit with Stacey Rattner’s students in Castleton, NY. I had mentioned to them that my husband’s family was from right near there, and they had gotten excited because the name of their middle school is Maple Hill. They were a great group with terrific questions, and so, when I looked at my tour schedule and saw that I had a free day, I asked Lizzy Mason at Bloomsbury if I could do a visit to their school. We were able to work it out, and I’m so glad we did because let me tell you, Stacey Rattner knows how to get her students excited about reading and ot make an author feel like a superstar.
Stacey has a group of kids who help her to shelve the books, and they were all invited to a pizza lunch. The kids who had read The Water Castle sat at a table with me so we could chat. Many had been part of a Newbery club, and some had taken part in a spirited debate that pitted The Water Castle against Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steven Sheinkin. How could they possible choose?! Another pair of students told me that The Water Castle was their second favorite choice of 2013. Their top pick was Jinx by Sage Blackwood. These kids were so smart about talking about books that I almost forgot to eat.
Stacey thought of everything, from the table decorations of canned goods — a nod to Hazel’s attempts to build a fall-out shelter — to cookies as headstones in a brownie graveyard to the rice krispie treat sculpture that could have been a castle or a mausoleum.
It was almost a shame when we had to stop lunch for the presentation. For that we were joined by the rest of the 4th and 5th graders. No surprise, they were a great audience.
Northshire Books in Saratoga handled the book sales for the event, and I got to meet Rachel Person, their events coordinator. I spent the next day with her, which was great. She is warm and funny and absolutely perfectly suited for her job in the store.
Wednesday I got to visit two schools in the Saratoga Springs school district: Dorothy Nolan Elementary School in Wilton and Greenfield Elementary School in Greenfield. This was a day that I completely forgot to photograph. Eek! However, I want to commend the parent committees at both of these schools who coordinated the events with Rachel. When you think Saratoga you probably think of the race track or Skidmore College, and imagine it to be an affluent area. That’s true, but it’s also farmland and home to a Navy base. The income levels vary widely, including some deep poverty especially as you move to the outskirts, and these parents are making sure that every kid is being offered terrific enrichment to their education.
Wednesday night there was an event at the bookstore, which was fun, but especially fun because my mother-in-law brought my kids and my brother and his wife came with their girls, so it was a big family affair. There were also guests from the area, so there was a nice, cozy crowd.
The next day I drove east to Manchester, VT, home of the original Northshire Bookstore. Events Coordinator Mary Allen brought me to my school visit at the Maple Street School. Walking into this school I felt a mix of history, community, and the sparks of learning. I often fantasize about moving to Vermont (who doesn’t?), and if I did this is the kind of school I would want my kids to attend. I spoke to a group of fifth graders who had wonderful ideas for the “What if?” prompts I offered. At the end of the presentation, one girl told me that she hadn’t much cared for writing, but that I had made it sound fun, and so she wanted to try again. Can’t feel much better than that.
I met a small group at the book store that afternoon, including two teachers who drove down from Chester Andover (one named Mallory!), and a homeschooling family that was studying the Cold War. We talked about the research that went into the book, and how difficult it is to get all the details right.
And then it was done. I drove back to Albany where I spent the night before driving home with my kids. It was almost two weeks away from home. The laundry pile was overwhelming. The emails I hadn’t dealt with threatened to bury me. But it was all worth it. I loved being back in schools and interacting with kids, and it was fantastic to meet all the wonderful booksellers, librarians, and teachers. I am so grateful to Bloomsbury for sending me on this tour, and to Lizzy Mason in particular for organizing it all.