Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nation Book Festival Day 2: Finding Friends within the Pages

This was the first time in its ten-year history that the National Book Festival extended into a second day, and the bibliophile in me couldn't have been happier. It didn't matter that I was being eaten alive my mosquitoes and sunburned and sweating worse than...well, I won't even go there. All I knew is that I was going to meet one of my childhood heroes, the woman who made Arthurian legend come alive: Susan Cooper.

Sure, I got my copy of War Dances signed by Sherman Alexie (he signed my copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a few years ago), and I got to see the Magic School Bus in real life, but it was listening to the men and woman who changed my life—the authors who introduced me to some of my greatest friends—that really made my day.

After Brian Selznick's talk gushing about Hugo Cabret being adapted to film, it was fascinating to listen to Susan Cooper talk about her opposite experience with The Dark Is Rising/The Seeker. But mostly I loved sitting just feet away from one of my writing heroes. Cooper rarely makes public appearances anymore, so I never expected to hear her speak. Her books have an amazing sense of place, and she easily builds relationships with her readers though she writes mostly fantasy. I could gush about her all day, but I'll spare you.
"It's a special connection between the writer and the kids who live within the pages like she has. We've become friends because of the books we've shared."
—Susan Cooper
author of The Dark Is Rising Sequence and The Boggart

I only caught the end of Patricia McKissack's talk, but she was so sweet and delightful. And the way she spoke about her family—especially her husband—made me want to adopt them all.
"You don't have to write memos when you're married to your co-author. You can wake up in the middle of the night and say, 'I've got it!' and he can say, 'Well, get it in the morning.'"
—Patricia McKissack
author of Mirandy and Brother Wind and The Clone Codes

I'm not sure why I was surprised by how much I loved Gary Schmidt, but I think he was my favorite speaker. The way he talked about the importance of books to the development of children literally had me in tears, and his dedication to the writing craft is awe-inspiring. He talk about how we "throw kids away" by not trusting them with the beautiful things in life, and while relationships and love are the most amazing things in the world, "they are not promised." Yet if we provide children with the power of words, they can make sense of the horrors that so often surround us. I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about all the amazing things he said.
"Writing is always about discipline. Gift is great to talk about, but at the end of the day, it's all about getting your butt in the chair and writing... I think a lot of people here know what it's like to have a book that's a friend, and that's why I write."

I love that I live in a country where we celebrate books and literacy. Though we still struggle to help kids understand the importance of reading, and far too often our education system fails to provide young adults with the tools they need for success, events like these give me hope. They fill my well and strengthen my desire to make a difference. I hope you can join me on The National Mall next year to celebrate the wonders of reading.

P.S. Happy Banned Book Week! Exercise your First Amendment rights and read.

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