Dear Indie Booksellers,
I have been thinking all day about what I could write that might possibly express how truly grateful I feel about THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. winning the E.B. White Read Aloud Award at BEA last night.
First, I thought I’d say thanks for all that you do — for authors and teachers and librarians, for families like mine and kids like my students — every day. You cheer for our books, help our kids grow into young adults, help our young adults find their places in the world, and make our communities stronger. I was a fan of yours long before I had a book in your stores.
Then I thought might tell you a funny story about where I was – making dinner, still dripping wet from my first lake swim of the season – when my agent called from New York to share the news.
But the truth is, I can’t even think about this award for too long without getting tears in my eyes. Because reading aloud is a very big deal in my world.
When I was growing up, the youngest of four kids in a busy house, I was always on the lookout for someone who might want to read to me. When my parents, brothers, and sister grew weary, I’d wait in the kitchen for unsuspecting visitors. As soon as the doorbell rang, I’d run for the bookshelf. My parents still have photos of a preschool me, bringing piles of books to the table at their dinner parties, hoping to find a reader.
When I became a parent, reading aloud became a huge part of my life again. It doesn’t matter that everyone in our house is an independent reader now; read-aloud time is a treasured part of every day. Curled up by the fireplace in winter. On the deck by the lake in summer. And just before bed at night. I have read the end of CHARLOTTE’S WEB aloud more times than I can count, and never without tears. I have read every word of all seven Harry Potter books out loud – twice – since my kids are five years apart and were ready for them at different times. And my daughter and I were reading Grace Lin’s WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, one of the other E.B. White finalists, the week the short list was announced. I’d picked up a signed copy at Flying Pig Bookstore after Grace’s author visit, when Elizabeth and Josie told me how much I’d love it. They were right.
In addition to writing books for kids, I teach 7th graders. I read aloud to them almost every day. No…they are not too old for read-alouds. And yes…I do all the voices. We started our school year with Rebecca Stead’s WHEN YOU REACH ME. The kids voted on their next read-aloud by class, so one group listened to Ann Burg’s ALL THE BROKEN PIECES, while two more heard Nora Raleigh Baskin’s ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL and one shivered its way through Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. We just finished Laurie Halse Anderson’s CHAINS as a whole team read-aloud, and by the time the last page was turned, Isabel and Curzon felt as real to my students as their classmates.
Reading aloud in the classroom holds special magic for kids who aren’t always successful in school, kids who might not have had those experiences at home. A guidance counselor stopped by my room one morning to let me know that one of my kids was having a particularly rough day and probably wouldn’t make it through class. When he arrived, I could tell he wasn’t himself, and he came up to me right away to tell me he was leaving for the study room so he wouldn’t get in trouble.
“I can write you a pass to go if you want,” I said, “but we’re reading for most of the period because we’re at that good part. Do you want to give it a try and see how it goes?”
He nodded and went to his seat, and I kept an eye on him as I read. I watched the story change his afternoon. I watched his hands unclench and his face relax, and watched him leave in a better place than he was when he came. And it wasn’t my doing; it was Isabel and Curzon, I think, who made him feel like things might be okay, and it was those funny British soldier wives who made him laugh. I saw him later in the day, too, and he still seemed to be doing all right. I wasn’t surprised. Stories stay with us. They nurture us, long after the reading is through.
So anyway, indie booksellers, this is my big, long way of saying thanks. That gold sticker with the spider web means an awful lot to this reader.
With much gratitude,