Good Words

The school’s weekly bulletin, to which I’ve paid very little attention, tells me that there will be a virtual author’s visit today. I should’ve received a Zoom link—we’re a Google school and use Meet pretty exclusively for classes—but I never got the link.

I text my most reliable-to-respond-rapidly teacher; it’s 6 a.m. here but well into morning in NJ, who forwards me a link, letting me know that she never received the ZOOM link either and had to scramble to find it. Now I’m not feeling so forlorn; they didn’t forget about me, the virtual LANGUAGE ARTS teacher after all.

Math teacher that she is, we still have to iron out the time difference with the wackiness that is a school schedule, all those strange times (10:37, for example). I realize that, if I want to attend, I will join an hour before I meet with the seventh graders, my first class, an hour before I’m due to teach. No way am I missing an author visit.

Dan Gutman shows up in all his wacky glory live from NYC! His presentation is mesmerizing, and honest, and FUNNY! Do you know Gutman’s work? I had only been familiar with his baseball-themed middle-grade novels. At one point, I’d tutored a fifth grader who wasn’t keen on reading but lived and breathed baseball. Gutman was a natural fit and saw us through to just where he said he wants to get all kids: to love reading.

Gutman owned that he hated reading as a kid. He wanted to write books that entertain, and make them WANT to read. He unabashedly claimed that he’s not trying to teach any lessons, but that one. He’s talking my language.

He gave the kids his nine-step writingmethod, beginning with setting and ending with a snappy title, obstacles, sidekicks, twists in the middle. He celebrated the virtues of notecards as outlines that you can move around ‘cuz documents get too long, and “you can’t see everything.” He presented what we hope to teach and have the students apply to their writing. Coming from him though, it sounded like TRUTH.

When the kids reflected on what they remember, many talked about his rejection letter portfolio. Gutman has kept his stack of rejections from name-brand publishers—lest he ever forget what it took to get to be the author of 165 books. He asked the kids, “What do you think should happen to rejections like these?” To answer he tore one in half, ’nuff said.

They also liked that he has only met his illustrator/partner Jim Paillot, who lives in Arizona, once in their 17-year-long collaboration for the Weird School series and yet considers him a great, true friend.

When I calculate the benefits of this virtual world we’ve explored—and often rued—I think of today and how wonderful for all of us that authors continue to spread the good words.

8 thoughts on “Good Words”

  1. How great is that?!? What a treat for you and for the kids. They learn so much more from someone that has been there, done that… even if we have, they hear it clearer from an author.

  2. I enjoyed how the frantic hustle at the start of this post eased into Gutman’s presentation and exploded with detail that made the time go by slowly, as if I was sitting in the audience with you. Your asides made it seem like I was in the chair right next to you. I forgot – until the end – that this was virtual, so well done in your writing and kudos to Dan for time well spent!

    1. He was awesome. I know from his end it must be far less satisfactory than face-to-face, but you would never know ti by his engagement level with us.

  3. When I helped organize a Young Writers Academy for several years we always had an author com in to speak to the kids – Ralph Fletcher, Gordon Korman, Gareth Hinds – and that was the highlight of the summer for the kids. Glad you got the chance to sit in on the author’s visit.

    1. It made my day! (I remember seeing Ralph Fletcher in the post office in Durham, NH and literally felt my heart beat in my hands. What a terrific guy.)

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