Even after nearly a week, I still haven’t adjusted to West Coast time — so here I am at 4:30am in my hotel room, wide awake with hours until sunrise. On the plus side, this gives me time to file a report on my little school visit adventure from earlier in the week!
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to do something very special. I took a trip a few miles down the shore to Shell Beach Elementary School, which is part of Pismo Beach, CA. Here I am near the entrance:
This visit was unique for a couple of reasons. For one, it was my first in-person school visit on the West Coast; everything before this had been in one of a handful of states, all around Pennsylvania. And, of course, the second thing that made this visit so awesome is that Postcards from Pismo is set right in that area. It was a real thrill to preview that book for the kids, exactly two months before its release in stores. This was the first school to hear me read it during a visit, and I can’t think of a better place to unveil the book.
I did two 45-minute assemblies at the school, each with about 140 kids. I learned after the fact that in my first assembly, I actually had an AM kindergarten class join the group that had never been to an assembly before. I have to say that they did great; they seemed like pros to me!
When I start an assembly, I like to get a sense of the crowd, so I ask the writers and readers to give me a wave. I knew from the beginning I was in for a good group:
From there, for both assemblies I shared my “Rules for Writers” presentation. I love doing my talk in a room like this one — big enough for that 140, 150 kid range, but small enough that I don’t have to use a microphone. Believe it or not, I’m still not used to using one, even after a whole five months of school visits. I’m fine at a podium, sure — but there’s something about walking around, keeping animated and high-energy, and holding a cordless microphone to my face that trips me up.
But if I only need to do two out of three? I’m an ace.
After I shared the Rules and did a little call-and-response (as usual, the kids seemed to have the most fun shouting back Rule Number 4: Practice, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!!!), the two assemblies diverged a bit. For the younger kids, I did a spirited reading of Nothing but the Truth — which seems to be my best live read on account of the mischievous Inks and their ridiculously high-pitched voices. Here I am introducing the story and asking for predictions from the group:
For the second assembly, I did a reading of the first three letters out of Postcards from Pismo.
Man, do I wish I could show you the kids’ faces as I read. I like to make eye contact with any group I’m reading to, and it felt so wonderful to see such attentive looks from the audience. There was plenty of laughter, and lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” every time I mentioned a local detail. I had a lot of questions in the Q&A after about those. The kids all wanted to find out how I learned so much about Pismo Beach.
Most gratifyingly, though, I had even more questions about the protagonist, Felix, as a character. I know that I’ve done a good job creating a kid’s voice when I have students asking whether the character is really a young version of me. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, that feeling like you’ve gotten the story right. I’ll never tire of it.
It’s funny; on Wednesday, I got my first review of Postcards, from a magazine called Kirkus Reviews. It’s mostly for book-industry folk — librarians, booksellers, the like — so if you haven’t heard about it, no worries. Anyway, this venerated publication said some really nice things about the book (the full review will be available to non-subscribers around April 1). Among other descriptions, they called it “fervent and timely.” As far as first-reviews go, it’d be hard to get a better one.
But just a day later, I got my second “review,” from the students of Shell Beach Elementary. Look at all of my rambling above — I’ll let you decide for yourself which one matters more.