Book Week, Hat-flipping and the Reason Why

Book week has an osmotic way of seeping into the weeks around it, whether its preparation or pre and post book Week school visits. It’s an exhausting time. Most of my commitments are in Sydney so it’s a four hour round trip on the train each day. But I love it. The kids are the best reward ever.

I never intended to visit schools. I was comfortable and experienced speaking in front of a hall full of adults but a library full of children terrified me. How could I possibly be entertaining? They would laugh (I have since discovered this is the pinnacle of success – when you can get a roomful of kids to laugh!).

But the year my first book was released, the Primary School English Teachers Association (PETA) decided to run a course to encourage debut authors to present in schools and I was invited to attend.

The message in Val Noake’s opening speech spoke directly to me. She said  you can write in your office and go nowhere and kids will still love your work or go into schools and use your persona as an author to encourage children to read and write. How could I ever even think of foregoing that?

Over two days I learned from the experts. I remember sessions by Sue Whiting, Deb Abela and Jeni Mawter. Then I was paired with a “mentor” who helped me prepare for my first school visit. If I wasn’t already on convinced, working with Deb Abela (enthusiastic, talented and all-round lovely person) would have persuaded me.

To my surprise, I found I loved school visits. Even the “hat-flipper” couldn’t faze me. There’s usually one in a session – the pre-bored child who doesn’t want to be there and fiddles with his/her hat or shoe-laces or pen or whatever they just found in their pocket.  They became my motivation. If I could get them engaged, the presentation was a win!

Just this week, yet another instance confirmed why I love working with kids and literature. After a large Year 3 – 6 session, a group of kids crowded around to ask one more question or share their current WIP. One small boy, probably Year 3, waited until everyone else had left. Then he blurted: ”I’m going to try hard. I’m going read all your books. I’m going to try really, really hard.” I guessed that my books would be a struggle for him and we had a talk about reading in general and how much fun it might be to read alternate paragraphs with mum or dad.

After he left the librarian said: “I never thought I would ever hear him say that.” I asked if he would be able to read my books and she shook her head. “He’s not at his reading year level yet.” So my work was not done. I hadn’t put the right book in his hand. I had inspired but once the book was opened, he would probably give up.

I often show kids the first book I wrote, Ratbags, part of an Aussie Schoolbooks leveled reading set for Year 3. I figured it would be just right, especially with its wonderful quirky illustrations by Peter Viska. So I gave it to the librarian and asked her to tell my newest fan that I had donated it to his library because I was so impressed with his determination to get reading and I had specifically asked for him to be given the first chance to borrow it.

I hope he did.