The true impetus for starting this blog was a fantastic Friday I had back in mid-October. My class started the day with a nearly hour-long Skype with Laurel Snyder, which I’ll write more about later. Then, that evening, I ventured up to Kidsbooks, in Canada, to see the wonderful, talented Raina Telgemeier. That day kind of blew my mind, and I was on a high for days afterward.
So, let me tell you about meeting Raina.
Five bucks seems like a sweet deal to me!
I’m unlucky–kidlit wise–to not live in a large city named New York or Chicago. But I am lucky enough to live within reasonable driving distance of two other large cities, Seattle and Vancouver. I had kept an eye on Kidsbooks events for a long time. They bring some heavy hitters to the Pacific Northwest. It takes me about an hour to drive to Vancouver, not including border waits or traffic. So I can’t really make any weekday events. Rick Riordan? Sorry, no. Jeff Kinney? Mmm, can’t. Work days are just sort of impossible. Plus, I like to see my kids sometimes.
So, I was super excited to see that Raina was putting on multiple events with what she calls “one of the best children’s bookstores in North America.” Even better, one of the events was at the “South Surrey” store, closer and much more manageable for an international traveler such as myself. So I was headed to my first Kidsbooks event. I hope to make more soon. Schedule on the weekends, please!
Anyway, I arrived in Surrey with plenty of time. I sat in my car in the rain and finished a book :^) Then I ventured out to the store. Only a few people were there. I saw Raina. Gah! Same room as one of my kidlit idols! One of the most beloved authors in my classroom! Must build up nerve to go up and say hi.
I didn’t want to intrude on her preparations for the night, so I explored the shelves. I read Creepy Carrots. People started to filter in and I decided to claim a seat. I would talk to Raina afterward, during signing.
But then, wonder of wonders! Raina walked right up to me and, “Hi! I think I recognize you.” Wha?! She recognized me? I love the Internet! Twitter and Goodreads, you are the best.
We had a wonderful 5-minute conversation. Raina is such a gracious, caring, intelligent person. It was an honor to meet and talk with her.
We talked a bit about her audience for the evening–I saw two boys (younger siblings); I was the only non-dad adult male. I was surprised, since I can guarantee that my entire class would have come if she visited our town. Smile is loved by every single student who reads it, boys and girls.
We also talked about Drama. Raina asked me how it had been received in my school. I was a little sad to share that no one had read it yet. We talked about the reasons why. I had planned to proudly put it on the shelf in my classroom, but I did share with my librarian and principle that it features gay characters. My district is a bit conservative, and I didn’t want them to be surprised by any parent phone calls. My principal’s response was that she’d rather have it in the library than my classroom–this was just to protect me from any agitated parents. Raina was very understanding, and talked about her own feelings on how Drama was received by publishers and what the response will be when it gets into more schools and public libraries (and parents hear about it). “I just wrote a story about my friends.”
I’m happy to report that Drama has now entered our school library circulation and has been making the rounds in my classroom very quickly. I haven’t heard any negative responses. Many students have said they loved it (and most of the kids who have read it first have been boys!). Really, I think most kids don’t have any particular interest in the gay element–they just enjoy a beautiful story about school, friends, and life. That said, there are some kids who will find a much deeper connection with Drama, for whom the book will be a bit of validation for what they are feeling. They are OK. They are normal. This is what makes Drama, to me, one of the most important books of the year.
It was a great night. Raina’s presentation was fun, and I found out that she and my wife had the same fashion sense in the ’90s. I hope I get the opportunity to meet her again.
Check out Raina’s books from your public library, or buy them! When possible, please support your local bookstore, like my town’s beloved bookseller, Village Books.