For just two weeks, I am going to be changing the format of this blog from a “writing lesson” blog to a “book tour” blog. For you teachers who have signed on solely for the purpose of lesson ideas, I won’t be offended if you jump ship for a little while, and I promise I’ll share a few more lessons before summer vacation. As a parting gift, here’s a link to an AWESOME lesson about creating a blog from the point-of-view of a fictional character:
Now onto the tour stuff…
Part of the reason I’m writing this is because I want to record all these once-in-a-lifetime experiences before I forget them–which, given my memory, means I better write fast. The other reason is so the students that I abandoned back home can read about what their teacher is up to at other schools. (Hey kids! I miss you! I hope you are listening to Ms. Rodrigues! Rhino Romp and Field Day soon!)
My first stop, on May 9th, was my very own Ridgewood Avenue School, where I teach third grade. I wanted to start my tour here because I anticipated being somewhat nervous, and I thought having a home field advantage would make things easier. This ended up being true and…not so much with the true. It was nice knowing my locale so well, but what I hadn’t anticipated was the MIND STAGGERING outpouring of support from parents, teachers, and students. The Home and School Association purchased one copy of the novel for every family in our school and all teachers, via Watchung Booksellers, an awesome local independent bookseller. The Home & School also printed Thickety t-shirts to sell to the kids, and gave a t-shirt to each teacher! In the week leading up to the event, food inspired by The Thickety was cooked by the fabulous Sharon and sold in the cafeteria, including beef stew (yum) and apple pie (double yum).
Sadly, there was no hushfruit, but I’ll forgive Sharon, because hushfruit doesn’t actually exist.
The books were handed out to students on publication day (May 6th) so they could have three days to read as much as they could before the author “visit.” And man, did they ever dive in! Walking through the hallways and seeing all these kids reading my novel was just such an incredible experience. As an author, I don’t think anything can top that.
On the day of the event, Harper Collins provided Thickety buttons for each student. Parents designed an amazingly elaborate entrance to the auditorium so students could “enter the Thickety,” and even rented something called a gobo (which sounds like a creature from my book but is apparently a real thing) to create shadowy tree effects on the walls.
The front row was packed with my family and friends, who were kind enough to log in some serious travel time in order to attend, and at one o’clock the kids spilled into the auditorium, along with many of their parents. All told, there were about 700 people there, waiting for me to say something meaningful.
Mr. Donovan, our principal and stalwart supporter of me during this whole crazy journey, gave a very moving introduction, and then I did my thing for a little over an hour. I admit this part is a little fuzzy. I know I talked about how The Thickety was published, read an entire chapter (the part when Kara first finds the grimoire), riffed on the importance of reading and writing for young people, and told a story about cheese whiz, but mostly I kept thinking in my head, Don’t say anything stupid. Don’t say anything stupid. If you mess up, you see these people EVERY DAY. Don’t say anything stupid.
Although I paced back and forth as I am wont to do, I did not trip. Not even once. I am very proud of this fact.
The students asked questions afterwards, and I quickly learned that this will absolutely be my favorite part of touring. Since many of the kids had already finished the book (in three days!!!) there were some crazy insightful queries. Some of my favorites:
“What is Grace’s backstory?” (Complicated.)
“Where do you get the ideas for all your scary monsters?” (I wish I knew!)
“Are any of these characters based on kids you’ve taught?” (Nope—but I did use some names I liked.)
After the event at Ridgewood Avenue School, I journeyed down the road to Watchung Booksellers in Montclair. It’s such a cozy, comfortable environment—perfect for browsing—and this allowed me to chat with some very enthusiastic readers about the novel and what it’s like to be an author. It was a welcome change of pace after the larger crowd. Both events were very memorable, but in different ways.
All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the public appearance side of my writing career, and I am so grateful for the warmth and support of everyone. Ridgewood Avenue School really is my second home.
Now onto Texas!
Final note: During my presentation, I showed the Thickety book trailer and a short film called “Good Vs. Wiivil,” which I made with my friend Jack Paccione Jr. a few years back. A number of students have asked for the links, so here they are!
Good Vs. Wiivil (in HD)