|Marsha Chall and friends|
The author visit—a heralded event for both invitee and inviter. In my two decades of visits, Murphy’s Law has sometimes defined the day’s dynamics, from hyperbolic scheduling (the worst being 12 presentations in one day), to dysfunctional room assignments (full afternoon sun for a slide show), to vomiting children (I try not to make them sick).
The reason for my continued forbearance as a visiting children’s author is that most experiences defy Murphy’s Law: What can go well, does, and sometimes eclipses even my expectations. Tired feet and weakened vocal chords do not dent my conviction that an author’s presence deepens and emboldens the connection between stories and readers, enriching both author and child, so that by the end of each visit, “I am wrapped in a sweet humility of secrets” (Isak Dinesen).
As a visiting author I have found these things to be true:
- Authors create
readers. Basal reading texts and worksheets might not. I visited a tiny school
in Southwest Minnesota where the sole reading curriculum was, of all things, books.
Reading class was conducted in the library where every child could freely
choose literature to read daily. The school could not afford to buy a basal
reading series, so it couldn’t afford not to use the library. These
young readers created outstanding companion writing and art in preparation for
my visit. They also achieved the highest reading scores in the state.
- Readers create
authors. If I had never been a prodigious reader, I would not write. Reading my
own work to children allows me to hear it as a reader, so that I write far more
with the reader in mind. By winnowing passages from my work for oral readings,
I have discovered that my best writing is what I like to read over and over and
that children listen to with open faces and respond to with silence, laughter,
gasps, echoes, or murmured acknowledgements. Writer and readers have connected
across the arc of story. We have felt and shared our humanity.
- Authors create authors. On a deep winter day in Northern Minnesota, five middle-grade girls encircled me after my presentation. They were skipping some of their lunch period to spend time with me, hungry for something besides fish sticks. As they shared the details of their changing families—a runaway mother, a new stepfather, a smaller bedroom, horrific pet deaths, parents’ unemployment—I slowed the pace of my book signing to give them space to tell their stories. Dinesen’s words reflect the truth of this telling: “All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them.”
Author to author, we are entrusted with the sweet humility of secrets. An author visit is a compelling responsibility, but also a privilege. Humane. Humbling. Honorable.