Reading Rock Stars! is one thing that makes the Texas Book Festival one of the premiere gigs. Here's how that works: schools in the Austin (TX) area apply for consideration. What they get if they're chosen: an author or two to visit with kids a day before the actual festival begins. Another plus: each child receives at least one of the author's books, signed. Schools chosen are Title 1 campuses, which means most of the kids are traditionally non-readers, or book owners. I say traditionally, meaning really stereotypically non-readers, b/c my experience at St. Elmo Elementary proved otherwise. (On a side note: based on my experiences with such communities, as writer and teacher both, I didn't need proof of the fact). The 4th and 5th graders I met with on my visit went more than very well. Here's the skinny in a nutshell: I show up, and lined up just outside the office waiting to be walked to class is a group of 2nd graders: one of them says to me, "Hey, you're the author." I say I am. We talk a bit. Another writer, Sally Cook, is there to meet with the little kids. She's a picture book writer (most recently of the non fiction book Hey, Batta Batta Swing! The Wild Old Days of Baseball), and I got to sit in on part of one of her presentations. She had close to 100 preK kids and in the cafeteria. They were hilarious and Sally was too cool. She's done this before. I hung out in the library with some solid readers. Their teachers obviously don't believe for a moment that Title 1 means lesser fortunate and so lets water down their education. They're about teaching kids to learn for themselves. Awesome job, teachers!
The following day I met, briefly, Sherman Alexie. I walked up to him and asked for his autograph since I wouldn't get another chance for it since we were presenting at around the same time. He said, "Funny, I was just telling Sharon (his guide for the day) that being in Texas is like being at home b/c there's always a guy who looks like my cousin Steve, pointing at you." Or words to that effect. But still, I guess if Alexie wants a cousin in Texas, I'll be it. I loved his latest The Almost True Diary of a Part-time Indian. I also met Monica Brown, Sarah Cortez, and a couple of others. And I got to present with Linda Sue Park, whose Tap Dancing On the Roof: Sijo (poems) is a great read! I so want to present with her again.