The other day I spoke to kids in grades K-6 at the Elmwood Village Charter School. It was wonderful to get out of my office, get dressed up (at least in something other than jeans and sneakers) and remind myself why I write and who my audience is. The first group of Kindergartners and First graders came in excited that something new was happening. One girl had a pink tutu skirt on, another wore Dorothy's sparkly pumps, and yet another wore a hijab. All the boys wore the basic jeans and t-shirt although the images on their chests ranged from Sponge-Bob to a rock guitar. The older boys and girls were as tall as I am, which always surprises me, yet just as willing to do the Snow Dance as the Kindergartners. My favorite time is between presentations when kids are filing in and out. Then I get to talk to them and find out what makes them tick. Each one has a story to tell if I just listen closely.
I love the kids who make the teachers nervous. I can always tell which boys are considered the troublemakers. The teacher keeps them close or is constantly shushing or gesturing to them. They may be trouble in class, but I find that they are good for me if I get them up in front of the group to participate. I treat them just like any other child. They stand alongside the know-it-all girl, the super shy boy, the straight A student. For me, they are all on a level playing field, and they seem to appreciate it.
I also love the kids who celebrate their uniqueness. When I mentioned my new book about Roger Tory Peterson and his passion for birds, one boy nodded enthusiastically. He knew exactly what I meant and was not afraid to say that he'd been to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and loved birds just as madly. God bless all the others, too, for accepting his passion so casually and agreeing that, yup, he's the bird nut.
There are the daydreamers who stand at the back of the line totally unaware that the class has moved on without them; the first one to realize that I will sign their bookmark if they ask politely; the ones who have just one more question to ask even though their class is already half way down the hall; the kids who raise their hand with no clue as to why; and the ones who already know they are writers.
And then there is the child who manages to say something wonderfully unexpected. One time it was a girl who, amid a discussion of books and writing, said, "I have a duck." At another school, I pointed to a boy who looked like he'd fly away if he flapped his raised arm any harder. It was the last question of the day, and I later found out that all the teachers inwardly groaned when I picked on him. He said, "I know who created Lincoln."
I had to take the bait. "Who?"
The girl next to him shook her head. "Nuh Uh. God did."
But the boy stood firm. "No, it was Disney. WALT Disney."
This time it was a little girl who sat in the second row right in front of me. She had been eyeing my books displayed on the table and seemed pretty quiet throughout the presentation. Then, as the group was leaving, she looked at me and said, "I like your words."
A writer can 't get a better compliment.