Over the years I’ve visited hundreds of schools. I’ve eaten a lot of birthday cupcakes, shaken a lot of little hands and walked down many halls. I’ve met many classroom rabbits and hamsters, and waved to classroom snakes and iguanas with names like Ziggy and Bowzer. I’ve laughed over lunches and talked and talked and talked! But I have managed to listen and look as well and what I’ve witnessed is that kids are as creative as ever. They have a natural ability to communicate. I’ve heard it in the poems they’ve read to me and seen it in the pictures they’ve made.
My goals when visiting a school are to celebrate these natural abilities that we all are blessed with and to encourage children to make full use of them. My aim is high for each visit. I want to reach all of the students, not just the strong writers and the “gifted”. To tell you the truth, I cringe when I hear that label used because it’s so limiting. I believe kids have all kinds of gifts and we shouldn’t be singling out those few who rise to the top.
It’s my aim when visiting a school to help all of the students recognize just how empowering communicating with words can be. I tell them I don’t expect them all to grow up to be published authors. It’s a fattening job, any way, what with so much sitting and all the cupcakes.
But I do hope they’ll all come to feel comfortable with language and to use writing to express themselves, whether in their journals, essays, book reports, emails, or in something as simple as a birthday wish written to someone they love.
During the visit I share my inspiration for many of my books, inspiration which I’ve found in my neighborhood or across the ocean on a trip to England. I also like to talk about mistakes and how important they are. I share a page from a rewrite and kids are always shocked to see all the mistakes my editor has found! Actually, I’m shocked too when I first see them, but then I force myself to deal with them and discover I’ve learned something along the way.
Here are some wonderful lines of poetry on that subject by Leonard Cohen…
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget the perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
School visits have become a large part of my job and a part that I really enjoy. I think it’s important for an author to know her audience and I think it’s important for children to discover that authors are real people, people who have doubts about their abilities, people who make mistakes, and people who love sharing their thoughts and feelings through words.