Dirty Laundry

Midwest Mania!!!! (Part Two)

My original plan was to write just one blog about my awesome visit to the Midwest but as I was writing and writing and writing I found there was just too much to pack into a single blog. Unfortunately for you I was a little lax in getting many photographs for this section of the story (well, except for my attempts at capturing springtime in KC, which I will slap on to the end of this blog).

And so, here we commence with Part Two! Got your popcorn? Your comfy chair? A beverage of some sort? All right then. Let’s get started…

One of the great things about going out and visiting schools and libraries (besides reading and speaking with the kids, of course) is meeting teachers and librarians like Kari Bulgrin and Kelly Miller, who are so passionate about getting kids to read. It really charges me up to go back and write more books. It gives me hope that there are people out in the world who really care.

Another such person is Crystal Faris, Librarian Extraordinaire for the Kansas City Library. Not only is Crystal out there on the front lines trying to get good books into kids’ hands, she also has a very high tolerance for fart jokes. Crystal spent the entire day driving me around from school to school to school to library (to a tasty barbecue restaurant as a grand finale), listening to me read about “noxious boomers” and “thundering buttquakes.” All the while smiling and laughing as we went.

Crystal picked me up at 8:00 am from my very lovely hotel (thanks for the recommendation, Mrs. Miller):

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Don’t let the scaffolding fool you. This is a beautiful place to stay if you’re ever in Kansas City. I was lucky enough to get a really good rate (maybe due to the construction) and so even though they are doing some renovations, I wasn’t bothered in the least.

We then proceeded to drive (well, Crystal drove and I just blabbed on about stuff) about forty five minutes outside KC to the town of Bonner Springs. When we arrived at Bonner Springs High School I was ushered into the auditorium where I was told by the librarian Debbie that there might be twenty students or two hundred students, depending out who showed up. Well, by the time my scheduled talk began, the entire auditorium was packed. I couldn’t believe it.

It was a really fun time. The students were laughing out loud during the reading and had a ton of great questions to follow. The time just flew by and I was so glad we had made the trip out to Bonner Springs for this visit. Crystal said she loved listening to the kids comments as they left the auditorium. She heard one boy say, “I thought that was going to be boring but it was really fun.”

After Bonner Springs, Crystal drove us back to Kansas City and gave me the grand tour of the downtown Kansas City Library. I really wish I had taken pictures of it because it has to be one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever been in. It used to be an old bank building and old bank buildings are generally gorgeous. At least, in my experience. Well, my experience really only extends to The Hockey Hall of Fame and now the Kansas City Library. But take my word for it. If ever you find yourself in Kansas City, take a trip to the library. And make sure you go downstairs to see their little screening room which is a converted bank vault. Super cool!!!

After a visit to the library we made stops at two inner city schools. East and Central. The librarians there - Carolyn and Michelle respectively - each have organized a book club (with the help of Mary, another incredible youth services librarian for Kansas City) set up for their kids. These students give up their lunch time to come to these book clubs, which is awesome. I read to each group of kids and we had some great discussions about the writing process and movies and screenwriting. Once again I have to apologize for not having my camera at the ready. I used to be so good at taking snapshots but ever since I bought my fancy new camera I generally take it out to try and shoot “artistic” photos. Sometimes I do miss my little point-and-shoot camera.

Anyway, I did manage to get one shot of the students at East High School. This is the “straight” shot. We did one where we were all holding our noses (to block out Coop’s zesty odor) but I did not get that one on film.

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Following these two school readings, Crystal took me by THE READING REPTILE bookshop where I met Pete Cowdin, one of the owners. Pete was instrumental in helping organize my school visits. He has a reputation for being a bit of a curmudgeon but I found him quite nice. He’s also written a very cool children’s book called FORTUNE COOKIES under the pen name Albert Bitterman. The store is warm and inviting. Decorated with beautiful and colorful paper mache sculptures done by Pete’s wife, Debbie.

Crystal and I grabbed a quick bite and then she dropped me off for a little down time at my hotel. I’ll spare you the details of my email writing, hockey score checking, and teeth brushing. Suffice it to say, I had about an hour to recover my voice before heading off to the Kansas City Library, Plaza Branch:

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With evening library visits you’re never sure who (or if anyone) is going to show up. I was happy just to chat with Crystal and April Roy (the Children’s Services Librarian). We made plans to go out for barbecue after the reading as we waited to see if anyone would arrive.

Luckily for me, two families came by with their teenage boys (a mom with her son and daughter, a super-cool grandma with her grandson who was visiting from Massachusetts, and a very sweet gentleman who hung out just outside our circle). And so we spent an hour hanging out, reading and talking books and writing. It was a really nice time and I enjoyed the more intimate setting. It was a perfect cap to my day.

Following the reading I had the pleasure of devouring some amazing barbecue in the company of some of Kansas City’s funniest and sweet librarians.

I could have spent the entire evening eating and drinking and talking with them but I had to get up at forty-thirty the next morning to catch my plane home.

There are a ton of details and people I’m sure I’ve left out (and certainly not on purpose) but I think you get the gist of how special this trip was. At least, I hope you do. If I’ve left things out or forgotten names here and there it is entirely the fault of my sieve-like brain and I do apologize for that. There wasn’t a person I met on this journey who wasn’t incredibly gracious and kind to me. (Well, okay, there was this one lady on one of my flights who was fairly rude and entitled, but other than that, I have only wonderful memories of the people I met in Nebraska and Missouri).

And now, for all your patience and persistence in reading about my adventures, I give you my photo essay on springtime (and other random stuff) in Kansas City:

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Midwest Mania!!!! (Part One)

Sit back. Relax. Make a cup of tea. Maybe a little popcorn. This is going to be a long blog entry. I will try not to go on too, too long, but I am so filled with the excitement of this past week’s visit to the Midwest that I’m not sure I will be able to contain myself. Plus, there will be a few pictures here and there to keep you entertained.

And so, here we go:

I am a coastal guy. I grew up on the east coast of the United States, spent quite a few years on the west coast and now make my home on the west coast of Canada. I love the ocean, and the mountains, and the trees. I’ve driven through the midwest twice (from New York to California and back again) but I’d be hard pressed to tell you what states I actually drove through. I don’t think it was Missouri or Omaha (but I could be wrong, in which case I apologize for lying and saying to the students that I’d never been to either state).

What I do remember from the drive were long stretches of flat lands and open fields and big skies. People from the middle provinces of Canada often say they can’t spend too much time on the west coast because of all the mountains and big tall trees. They’re beautiful, they say, but they can’t get over the feeling of claustrophobia and being closed in.

And I can understand that, especially if you’ve grown up being able to see a storm rolling in from three hours away over the plains.

I got to experience some of those crazy midwestern storms firsthand on my whirlwind tour this past week. Thunder, and lightning, and tornado warnings, and powerful sheets of torrential rain.

But what I got to experience alongside all that fun weather were several groups of amazing and inspiring students, as well as quite a few warm, kind, open-hearted, and passionate teachers and librarians.

The tour started off in Gretna, Nebraska (a city of about four thousand and just a stone’s throw from Omaha). Kari Bulgrin, the librarian at Gretna High School, got in touch with me when she saw on my blog that I was planning on visiting Platte City Middle School in Missouri. She asked if I wouldn’t mind popping down to the Omaha area to visit her school since I was already going to be in the Midwest. And am I ever glad that I did. Kari is an incredible librarian (and an incredibly nice person, to boot) who is obviously well-loved by the students at the school. I had a chance to read and speak with three groups of fun and bright students as well as meeting and talking to many of the wonderful staff at the school over a lunch of tasty pizza.

It was a fantastic and energizing day in which I got to read aloud from BEAT THE BAND for the very first time. I read three separate pieces from the two books and they all seemed to go over pretty well, I think.

I’ve asked Mrs. Bulgrin to send along some photos because I was so wrapped up in doing my presentations that I completely forgot to snap some myself. I am hoping she will email me a few so that I can post them here on my blog.

Next up was my scary and bumpy flights to St. Louis and onto Kansas City. Luckily, my connecting flight was delayed because my first flight had to circle the airport for nearly an hour until the thunderstorm had passed. I had visions of having to rent a car and drive the four hours from St. Louis to Kansas City. And I would have because there was no way I could miss my visit to Platte City, Missouri - which was the whole reason I planned this trip in the first place.

The short version of the story for this visit is that Kelly Miller, a Communication Arts Teacher from Platte City, Missouri wrote me an impassioned email last July about how my book, SWIM THE FLY, had changed her students reading lives. How many of them did not enjoy reading and how now, after having been exposed to my book, these same students (particularly the boys) started actually enjoying to read. Her letter really moved me (this had been my dream for SWIM THE FLY from the very start) and so I sent it on to my publisher. Well, my amazing publisher (Candlewick Press) sent along an advanced reading copy of my (at that time) not-yet-published book BEAT THE BAND, while I wrote (at Mrs. Miller’s request) a letter explaining why I thought reading was so important.

I thought things would end there. A few emails back and forth and that’s it.

Well, thirty emails later and a suggestion from my editor to sponsor a contest for Mrs. Miller’s class (where the boy and girl who read the most books for the year would get a character in the new book named after them), I found myself booking a flight down to Kansas City where I would visit Platte City Middle School along with several other Kansas City high schools, as well as doing a presentation for the GUYS READ series at the (incredibly beautiful) Kansas City Library.

When I finally arrived in KC I stayed at an airport hotel for the first evening and then was picked up by Mrs. Miller in the morning. She was spot on time and I knew that the day was going to be exciting when she handed me her detailed agenda (plotted out in ten minute increments, I think).

As soon as we arrived at Platte City Middle School:

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I saw the first of the surprises:

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And here is Mrs. Miller and I posing in front of the first surprise:

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The day just took off from there. I met the principal from Platte City Middle School, Chris Miller, as well as Joe Robertson and Keith Myers from the Kansas City Star.

I then met the super-nice school librarian:

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I met one of Mrs. Miller’s class where a couple of the students were showing their BEAT THE BAND spirit:

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Mrs. Miller’s class had me take their class test on SWIM THE FLY and BEAT THE BAND (I got a hundred percent on both, thank you very much. Truth be told, I was a little scared I might not do so well, not having read the entire books for quite some time).

I was then ushered into a press conference where I was interviewed by Terra Hall from Fox 4 News (the story can be seen in my last blog entry).

This was followed by a very short lunch break and then the real festivities began.

So many exciting things happened during the assembly that I’m afraid I might not be able to remember them all but I will try.

There was a rock band:

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There was a reading and some questions and answers.

There was a student dressed up like Matt when he tries to sneak into the girls’ locker room.

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There was a fan letter written and read by one of the students:

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There was a presentation of gifts by a group of Mrs. Miller’s girls—night vision goggles and a laser pen—that Cooper might like.

There was a framed pair of Matt’s (pre-soiled) boxer shorts:

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The band presented me with my very own BEAT THE BAND T-shirt.

I read a little more and then I signed a ton of the students’ books.

It was AMAZING! Something I will never forget as long as I live. It’s impossible to put into words what an incredible experience this was. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever get this kind of reception from a group of students. I am SO glad I wrote back to Mrs. Miller and that we arranged for me to visit.

And this was only day two of my trip. There was so much more to come.

TO BE CONTINUED…..

Almost Famouser!

Yes, I know “famouser” isn’t really a word, but so what? It’s my blog and I can bastardize the English language on it if I so please.

I have been having the most AMAZING time visiting the schools here in the midwest and I promise to write all about it when I get back, including posting a ton of pictures.

But I wanted to post a couple of stories that appeared on the TV news and in the Kansas City Star (before they get taken down, if they ever take these things down, I don’t know).

Here is the link to the Kansas City Star (I jacked a couple of copies of the paper from the hotel lobby for myself, but don’t tell anyone).

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And here’s the story from the TV news: