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March 20, 2016
"I'm so glad you're a person in the world." Isn't that one of the kindest, most eloquent, poetic, meaningful statements you've ever read? I wish I could say that I'd written it, but it was penned by a student at Westfield Elementary School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. I just got back late Friday night from Chicago where I visited three schools: Westfield Elementary, Briar Glen Elementary, and Park View Elementary. At Westfield, a girl came up to me after my presentation and shyly slipped me the letter below. Later in my hotel room, when I read it I thought, We should say exactly that to at least one person every day. "I'm so glad you're a person in the world."

Have to go pack. I'm leaving in an hour for Watertown, New York, to visit all the elementary schools and one intermediate school in the district. Everyone in Watertown read THE LEMONADE WAR as a One District, One School book. While I'm there I'm hoping I'll get a chance to drive over to Lake Ontario (they don't call it Watertown for nothing). I've never seen Lake Ontario! I'll take pictures and post them from the road. That way you can see Lake Ontario, too.

Did I mention I'm so glad you're a person in the world?

March 7, 2016
Below is a short video created by the enormously talented Lita Judge and her husband, Dave, that takes us on a magical trip to France, during which Lita gathered visual materials for the creation of her newest picture book, HOOT AND PEEP. From time to time, Lita and Dave embark on "painting trips" that allow Lita to sketch, paint, daydream, imagine, and create. (The video doesn't show us what Dave is up to. I suspect he is busy filming, along with being what Lita describes in the video as "my best friend and travel partner," a noble pursuit, indeed!) As you watch the video, you will have the rare chance to watch a sketchbook fill with pen-and-ink and watercolor paintings of the surrounding landscape and people. What a thrill it is to watch artwork "happen"!

If you are a creative person of any stripe or a non-creative person who likes to learn about the inner workings of another type of brain, take the four minutes to watch this delightful exploration of art, picture-book making, travel, and the wonders of Lita's remarkable talent and intellect. You will not regret making the trip! And after you watch the video, hurry out to get a copy of HOOT AND PEEP. That's what I'm going to do right now.

 

March 5, 2016
I'm at LaGuardia Airport in New York City with an hour-and-a-half layover until my flight to Boston. It will be good to be home. But the VSRA conference ended on a highnote last night with a banquet and a keynote speech by Jacqueline Woodson. The most powerful part of Jackie's speech for me was the extended readings she gave of her work. She has an amazing ability to memorize long passages (indeed, whole picture books!) that she's written, and her delivery is full of cadence, lyricism, and poignancy. She recited all of THE OTHER SIDE, which remains a favorite of mine, as well as EACH KINDNESS, which I had never read before. She also shared select poems from BROWN GIRL DREAMING and parts of LOCOMOTION (another personal favorite).

I love to hear authors read their own work. Jackie is a talented performer of her text, but even when authors aren't particularly "good" at reading, I still like to hear where they choose to place emphasis, how they control the rhythm of their words, the places they smile, the moments of hesitation. The other day, Kwame Alexander (see post on March 3) told us that he wasn't allowed to perform for the audio of THE CROSSOVER (which surprised me as he's a remarkable reciter of poetry), but that he was allowed to audition (!) for the audio reading of BOOKED (pub date April 5, 2016)—and he got the part. Phew!

Here's a photo of Jackie Woodson delivering her keynote last night.

March 4, 2016
Usually breakfast is a sleepy affair for me, but not today. I'm still at the VSRA conference (see yesterday's post for more details), and Kadir Nelson was the speaker at this morning's breakfast. What a treat! Better even than the French toast (which was pretty darn good). Kadir talked about his childhood and how at the age of five he discovered that drawing wasn't just a pastime; it was his passion. Lucky for us, his mother not only encouraged him in this pursuit (providing him with unlimited paper and many art supplies), but also saved his early masterpieces. Kadir shared some of these with us. It is no exaggeration to say that Kadir at five could draw better than I can as an adult now. (Anyone who attended my session today was lucky enough to see my artistic capabilities first hand!) By the time Kadir was eleven, he was drawing portraits that you would think had been drawn by a professional.

But I think the really important takeaway from his talk this morning was that despite the fact that he was naturally talented, it was the hours and hours and hours of time he spent practicing drawing that made him the exceptional artist he is today. He really emphasized the work and time and devotion he gave, even as a child, and I think it's so important for children (and adults) to be reminded of the importance of persistence. It's true with anything in life: succeeding is more about work than it is about talent. Although it must be awfully nice to be born with as much talent as Kadir.

Anyway, the entire morning was a revelation as he showed us his high school work, his first work out of college (working on the Steven Spielberg film Amistad), and then his work illustrating and eventually writing and illustrating children's books. He was kind enough to pose for a photo with me holding the February 22, 2016, issue of the New Yorker, which features his painting "Schomburg Center, Harlem, New York" on the cover. And take a look at his shoes! I couldn't resist including them. No doubt about it: Kadir was fantastic from top to bottom.

     

March 3, 2016
I arrived today in Norfolk, Virginia, for the 49th Annual Conference of the Virginia State Reading Association. (Did you know that Norfolk is the Mermaid City? Great inspiration for a story right there!) Well, there was plenty of inspiration today at the conference. I attended Kwame Alexander's keynote speech in which he discussed his lifelong quest to "become cool" and win the heart of the girl of his dreams. (Spoiler alert: he's accomplished both tasks.) And then I attended a workshop he delivered on how to convince kids that they already love poetry, they just don't know it yet. As you know, I'm always up for talking about kids and poetry (Hello? Have you read THE CANDY SMASH?), so I was really intrigued when Kwame talked about a book of his that will be published by Scholastic Professional Books on March 15 called Kwame Alexander's Page-to-Stage Writing Workshop: Awakening the Writer, Publisher, and Presenter in Every K-8 Student. In it, he shares his techniques for working with kids (and teachers) around the issue of poetry: writing it, reading it, performing it, loving it.

Tomorrow, I'll attend a breakfast with Kadir Nelson as a speaker (did you see his recent New Yorker cover? Fantastic!), offer a session on THE LEMONADE WAR and how it's used (effectively) as a One School, One Book text, lunch with educators, and then listen to the closing keynote by Jacqueline Woodson. Pretty excellent conference, wouldn't you say? I'll post more tomorrow—if I'm not too tired!

(from left to right) Donelyn Miller, Kwame Alexander, me, Chynita Turner-Pryor

 

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Where the Ground Meets the Sky The Boy Who Drew Birds Lost The Lemonade War The Night Is Singing The House Takes a Vacation