I spent a whirlwind three days in Chicago for the National Council of Teachers of English Convention. If you happened to sit near me on the plane ride home, you might have wondered why I couldn’t stop smiling. Here are some of the reasons…
My NCTE trip began in the loveliest way possible…meeting up with friend Linda Urban at the airport after our early-morning flights arrived. We had time for a breakfast and writer-talk before heading out to a shared school visit. We spent the afternoon with the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th graders of Brook Forest Elementary School, home of uber-librarian John Schumacher, one of Library Journal’s official “Movers & Shakers” for 2011. Just step into Mr. Schu’s library, and it’s easy to see why he caught LJ’s attention.
The Brook Forest library is beautiful, bright, and vibrant, and a place where kids so obviously feel loved and at home. And boy do they ever celebrate books here!
This is the picture book wall, where kids post a sticker for every picture book they read during Picture Book Month. There were hundreds – in fact, I suspect thousands, of titles already. Just awesome. The students and staff at Brook Forest really know how to make a visiting author feel welcome, too.
Even the poles were decorated! Here’s Linda, checking out some student art, featuring my Ernest from SEA MONSTER’S FIRST DAY and her Mouse from MOUSE WAS MAD.
And then there was the cake…
…which was as delicious as it was beautiful. The kids at Brook Forest ran the show for this author visit, reading the introductions and then coordinating the Q and A session that followed.
Here’s Linda, Mr. Schu, and me…
…and here’s Linda signing her awesome author poster. These all become part of the Brook Forest Library authors wall, where Mr. Schu features authors & illustrators who have visited, in person or via Skype.
On Thursday evening, it was back to Chicago, where I got to have dinner with the fantastic Walker/Bloomsbury folks, including my editor, Mary Kate, who is smart and sweet and funny, and who loves dessert as much as I do. She understands that one should never be too full for a brownie sundae.
Friday began with our NCTE author panel on using author critique groups as a model for classroom revision activities. Matthew Kirby, Eric Luper, Linda Urban, and I joined educator/author Denise Johnson to talk about the power of peer critiques for writers of all ages.
After the presentation, Mary Kate whisked me off for my signing, where the Walker/Bloomsbury folks had built this amazing tornado tower of EYE OF THE STORM review copies.
From there, I headed over to the Scholastic booth to sign MARTY MCGUIRE along with illustrator Brian Floca!
This was the first time Brian and I had ever signed together, so it was great fun, especially since he brought along some original illustrations for the second Marty book, MARTY MCGUIRE DIGS WORMS, which comes out in April!
Friday evening, I spoke and signed at the BookSource cocktail party for educators & staff developers, along with an author & poet I’ve admired for a long time, Nikki Grimes. Nikki had come straight from the National Book Awards and was losing her voice but agreed to speak anyway, after a cup of hot tea. Halfway through her talk, though, her voice just wasn’t holding up, and she looked over and motioned for me to join her at the podium. “Can you help me with this?”
We tag-teamed the rest of her speech, with Nikki giving the brief introductions and me reading her poems aloud. It was little scary, since I was reading cold, but mostly it was just fun and awesome. I kept thinking, “I’m standing here reading with Nikki Grimes!” Here we are after the reading & signing was through.
Nikki’s new book with Walker/Bloomsbury, PLANET MIDDLE SCHOOL, is a funny, wonderful novel in verse that I got to read in full after the event. It’s not to be missed.
And then… (Friday went on for a long time!) it was off to the Scholastic Family Dinner, which was on top of the Hancock Building in Chicago. If the elevator that whisked me up to the 95th floor without stopping hadn’t already made me lightheaded, the view would have finished the job.
I’d just gotten over my dizziness when Jim Murphy pointed out that all the chains for the blinds were swinging back and forth a little. (Leave it to the nonfiction guy in the room to point out that it was due to the whole building swaying in the wind!)
I had one more stop to make after the Scholastic dinner, and that was to meet up with some of my author and teacher Twitter friends for a late-night cup of tea. It was great to meet so many people I’ve already grown to call friends through our talks about books, teaching, and writing online.
From left to right, here’s Jen Vincent, whose blog Teach Mentor Texts is a must-read for teachers, Jenni Holm, author of amazing books including the new A VERY BABYMOUSE CHRISTMAS, & Colby Sharp, an amazing teacher whose enthusiasm for books & reading is contagious not just for his own students but all over the internet via his blog, SharpRead.
And then I went to sleep for a few hours.
Saturday brought two more signings, REAL REVISION with the wonderful Stenhouse folks, and OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW, at the Chronicle booth.
And finally, on Saturday afternoon, I was one of four keynote speakers at NCTE’s Middle Mosaic, along with Janet Allen, Teri Lesesne, and Gordon Korman.
Here’s Teri, speaking about books that address the Past, Present, and Future. If you want to see her terrific slideshow, it’s available here.
After my talk, it was off to the airport. (The fact that I shared a cab with Gordon Korman scored me major cool-points with my ten-year-old daughter.) This weekend will be quieter, with turkey and good books and family. But I’m still smiling over so many moments from this trip. Thanks, NCTE friends… You sure know how to celebrate reading & writing!