Ten years ago I devoured a book entitled BOUND by Donna Jo Napoli. I was a teacher at the time attending a writing conference where Ms. Napoli was the keynote speaker. The novel gripped me. I had to find out who this woman was that wrote so beautifully about a girl named Xing Xing.

bound

 

I listened to her speak about her childhood and why she wrote for children. Her words inspired me. A seed was planted. I had always loved to write. What if I too could write for children?

I invited Ms. Napoli to speak at our school. I knew the impact meeting her would have on my students. We read UGLY and BOBBY THE BOLD to prepare for her visit. One boy even convinced his mom to let him get a mohawk just like BOBBY. Ms. Napoli came to my fourth-grade class and then spoke at my daughter’s middle school. Meeting her made the students realize that behind the covers of all the books that lined the library shelves was an author who worked for years to tell a story just for them. Meeting her took the focus off of how many Accelerated Reader points the students earned and placed the focus on the story itself. I saw first hand how meeting an author inspired students to read and write, something I tried to do every day as a teacher.

School Visit Amelia Island Feb 2016 copy

 

From the tranquility of my writing room, I traveled north and found myself in front of a crowd of children talking about racing wheelchairs and ELLE & BUDDY. The teacher in me was at home. I asked how many of them read my book; a sea of hands waved through the air. A little boy asked, “Can I try the racing wheelchair?” A young girl told me her father used a wheelchair. Another informed me exactly how many geckos they counted in ELLE & BUDDY. We talked about books, authors, illustrators and the upcoming Paralympics. And just when I thought I’d heard every question I was surprised with the sweetest one of all, “Can I have a hug?”

I’m humbled. I think back to the day when ELLE & BUDDY was just an idea, a what-if? This writing road I’m traveling is not easy. There’s lots of rewriting, rejection, and an entire business aspect to it that I both love and hate. There’s criticism. There’s praise. There’s freedom and, sometimes, loneliness. There are days when I want to throw in the towel, and others when I feel an irresistible urge to write.

Even though my journey as a writer began over ten years ago, I feel as though I’m just beginning. I see how every step I’ve taken over the years has led me to where I am now. I’m grateful. I know I have lots more stories to tell. What I didn’t realize was the importance of school visits. Not only because I hope to inspire students to read and write, but because they inspire me. They make me want to tell the best story I can. A story that will entertain, make them think, and entice them to turn the page again and again until they’ve reached the end. And if I’ve done my job well, they’ll search for a new book and go on another adventure.


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