Hugs, Flags, and Award-Winning Sandwiches: A Visit to Birmingham Schools

This has been a whirlwind of a week for me so far in all of the best ways.  I spent three days as a visiting author in the Birmingham, Michigan School District, hanging out with amazing readers at Pierce, West Maple, and Quarton Elementary Schools.

On Monday morning, the Pierce kids and their librarian DaNita Bell greeted me with a flurry of American flags in honor of my mystery CAPTURE THE FLAG, which is one of Birmingham’s Battle of the Books titles this year.

After my morning presentations at Pierce, I had lunch with a small group of fifth grade readers, one of whom recently won a kids’ cooking contest. Gracie made her award-winning “Dice Up the Protein” sandwiches for our luncheon!

I loved my sandwich. It was an interesting mix of tuna and chicken salad with cucumber, lettuce, carrots, and tomatoe, plus a touch of horseradish for some added zing.  After the sandwiches, Alaina served a homemade cheesecake she made with her mom for dessert. Lunch heaven. And wonderful conversation, too!  My day ended with Pierce second graders interviewing me for the TV news program they put on the school cable channel.  Here I am with Amelia, who thinks she’d like to have a career in journalism when she is older. She’s off to a fine start!

On Tuesday, I visited West Maple Elementary. When I first arrived, some students were kind of hanging around the library. “They want to show you something,” their librarian, Mrs. Cornwall, said. It was this…

They’ve been working to create a Creativity Center in the library. It’s a place where anyone can go to write, or brainstorm, or just do any kind of creative work. The kids thought I might like to do some writing there during my breaks. (And they were right!)

I had so much fun talking with these students and answering questions that I forgot to take a photograph until they were all getting up to leave. But here they are…and you can see their lovely, bright library, too!

On Tuesday night, I visited the nearby community of Rochester, Michigan, which is hosting its Authors in April program this week. The organizers invited me to join them for the banquet, which was such a treat. I loved meeting the people in charge of this great program – all such great book lovers – and the librarians who host the authors, too!

School library media specialist Jenny Jones Bachman (center, in the photo above) was excited to tell me about some parent complaints that were filed after she started reading MARTY MCGUIRE to students at her school.  “She won’t wear cute clothes anymore!” one mom had lamented. Apparently, her daughter had decided to give up her princess outfits in favor of dressing like Marty for a while.

Jenny and I laughed about that, but I also promised to share a photo to prove that people who love mud and frogs and crayfish can put on fancier clothes sometimes, too. Here I am with Brian Floca, Marty McGuire illustrator (and 2014 Caldecott Medal Winner!) at the banquet last night, and yes…I am wearing a dress.
It was so nice to have some time to chat with Brian over dinner.  Sometimes, people assume that a book’s author and illustrator work together often and talk all that time, but that’s usually not the case. In fact, I’d only met Brian twice before this week – once for about three minutes when he signed a copy of MOONSHOT for my daughter at an ALA conference, and once right after the first MARTY MCGUIRE book came out. We sat side by side at the Scholastic booth signing for an hour but were so busy signing and chatting with readers that we didn’t really get to talk to one another.  So it was a treat to have some time to chat this week. I loved hearing about Brian’s research for LOCOMOTIVE and learning about his new projects in the works.
My last day of Birmingham visits was at Quarton Elementary School, and they rolled out the red carpet with a colorful greeting in the library.
The Quarton readers were just great.  When one student asked about the different stages a book goes through, I realized that I had two different books in my upcoming RANGER IN TIME series in my backpack, so I took them out for a little show and tell.
RANGER IN TIME is about a search and rescue dog who can time travel all over history to save people who need help. The first book in that new series, RANGER IN TIME: RESCUE ON THE OREGON TRAIL, comes out in January and is in the page proof stage now, so it’s looking more like a real book. Meanwhile, book 2 in the series is…still a mess.  I’ve been working on Draft #3 of RANGER IN TIME: DANGER IN ANCIENT ROME, so my current copy is all marked up with revision notes. (Just in case anyone’s wondering…the kids…or my editor…I finished revisions on the plane ride home. I’m going to read it one more time tomorrow & send it off to Scholastic!)
The Quarton kids sent me off to the airport with a giant group hug that still has me smiling.
And the Birmingham teachers and librarians were terrific, too!  On Monday evening, I gave a revision workshop for teachers and librarians at the public library. I so enjoyed writing with everyone and promised I’d share the PowerPoint presentation online. Here it is!

This is my second visit to Birmingham this spring, and both were such wonderful experiences. Many, many thanks to the Birmingham Education Foundation, Barbara Clark, and her whole team of school library media specialists for making me feel so welcome.

1 Reply on “Hugs, Flags, and Award-Winning Sandwiches: A Visit to Birmingham Schools

  1. Kate, this is so refreshing, following a conversation I had with an Elementary School teacher this week – regarding the sad, alarming dwindling creative writing opportunities in schools today. Sigh.