Today I spoke to first through fourth graders in Shrewsbury about writing, and what a patient and thoughtful audience they were. At the end of each talk I had the honor of announcing awards for reading, and the glow of pride on some winners’ faces was heartwarming, as well as the enthusiastic applause from their peers. Outstanding classes of readers won pizza parties, and those who’d quietly listened to me went momentarily just a little wild with delight.
It was fun to meet a teacher who’d heard me talk nine years ago, bought MARY ANNING AND THE SEA DRAGON then and more recently ANNE HUTCHINSON’S WAY, and asked the principal to get copies for all the second grade classrooms. “I’d much rather teach history like this than through a textbook,” she told me. I hope she guessed how much that made my already-made day. Here are two of her students with a diagram they made to compare the two picture books.
I hope I inspired the students as much as they inspired me, asking good questions about the lives of characters beyond the last page. I was asked about the books I wrote that were never published, and appreciated the empathetic gasps when I described piles quite taller than my stack of published books. But when I was asked if I knew which of my old unpublished manuscripts I’d most like to see as a book, I didn’t hesitate to name one I put in a drawer years ago, and felt my heart widen as I thought of how those characters deserve their chance. Some manuscripts just needed to be written, but this one wants out of the drawer, and I’m putting it in line for a revival. As someone who’s been nursing a recent rejection wound, I was glad to be reminded that a single no thanks does not mean the end of a book’s life.
There were great questions about origins and process, but today I appreciated those that sent me back to my desk drawers and possibility. Writing involves many roadblocks as well as successes. Writing is hardly ever finished. But the kind questions of friends and once-strangers keep us going.