I recently had the great honor to be the guest author for the Denver Public Library by invitation of my kind hosts, Librarians Joan Vigil and Martha Garbison (lovely, wonderful new friends), as well as the behind-the-scenes Jeanine Haney.
It meant flying to the mile-high city to visit six elementary schools and one teen group in two days (with a day on each end for travel). The only down side was, while I expect to get sick upon my return from intense public speaking schedules like this, I did not expect to catch a cold on the plane to Denver. Pah! Still, I'm proud of my extreme rallying skills, as apparently nobody could tell (except my kind hosts who were extremely understanding). I just slept like a coma in my room each night, which seemed to work, because I really did have a FABULOUS TIME!! I'll try to share some of it with you...
Flying into Denver at sunset was remarkable. The sun made the mountains glow like solid gold. And I don't know what it is about the lights in Denver, they remind me of Paris - yellow, lovely, inviting. What a pretty city. The photo from the plane doesn't do it justice:
Two awesome EMLA (Erin Murphy Literary Agency) Gangos met me for dinner on Sunday, my first night there - Jeannie Mobley and Tara Dairman. We've been chatting for ages online, so it was so nice to finally meet in person and talk shop, life, travel, you name it. What a great welcome to Denver! (They both have new books out, we clinked glasses at dinner, so I hope you'll click their names and check them out.)
I also learned a very cool fact about my last name. Our waiter was from Malawi and commented. Apparently "Kulemba" (rather than "Dulemba," which is Polish) means "to write" in Chichewa, a Bantu dialect. WOW! How cool is that, and ironic? Zikomo! (Thank you!)
Joan and Martha picked me up the next morning and off we went!
It cracks me up when people refer to children's book visits as glamorous. There's a good bit of heavy lifting and punting involved. Joan, Martha and I got really good at quickly setting up my slide-show, drawing easel, microphone and such. Every school was different. We met in libraries and auditoriums, both formal (kids in chairs) and informal (kids on the floor) in groups of 60 to 90 2nd graders. And best of all, every single child got a free copy of SOAP, SOAP, SOAP ~ JABON, JABON, JABON. Wow.
The first stop was Stedman Elementary School - mostly 2nd graders with a few 3rds scattered in. They were fabulous and it was a great kick-off to the tour!
The kids at CMS made a lovely welcome sign for me. (I'll post more photos as I get them.) And it was so fun to hear so much Spanish in this dual-language school environment. (What a sweet little library too!)
After a lunch of Pho Ga (basically, Vietnamese chicken soup with all kinds of fresh herbs - yum!) we visited the third school - McGlone Elementary. (Martha was taking pictures with her camera and I'll share as she shares with me.)
What really made an impression on me was how involved and tight the local librarians were. The librarian from the nearest library was at each school and they knew their kids. They also knew and supported each other. I like to think that's how it works everywhere, but I'd never seen that before and was really quite touched and impressed by how proud they were of their libraries and connected they were to the school libraries and librarians and especially to the kids. Not to mention, many were bilingual - important in these highly Hispanic-populated schools. (It's part of why they invited me - two of my picture books are bilingual - what a treat!)
After a successful day, I was feeling poorly, but still wired. Martha drove me by the Tattered Cover bookstore. I have a story about this store... When I lived in the mountains and didn't have a bookstore - any bookstore within 100 miles, I used to listen to the podcasts of authors visiting the Tattered Cover. It was before I was published and was such a dream of "what if..." So, it was a thrill to finally get to visit this bookstore with which I've always felt such a connection. Even better? They had two copies of A BIRD ON WATER STREET in stock!
Then we stopped by The Bookies - an all children's bookstore which was so packed to the rafters I could have lost myself in there as a kid - oh! What a wonderful space!
I was originally going to have dinner with more friends, but they were called away on a family emergency (sending love!). Perhaps it was for the best (not the emergency part), as I went back to my hotel, ordered take-out, and slept for 11 hours. Zzzzzz.
The thing about being around kids is, they are incredibly energizing. When they are being attentive and participating, there is no better feeling in the world. And it's up to me to give them something to pay attention to - so it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle. Kinda cool.
The next morning was a much prettier day - blue skies, green and golden leaves everywhere (this whole town seems gold to me) and the mountains can be spotted everywhere of course - stunning! We set off for Barnum Elementary and librarian Ms. Hungerford (who has already friended me on FB - hi!). Gads I love Smart Boards. Can I tell you how awesome those things are? Every school should have them, they make life so easy. We talked about the evolution of storytelling via the Jack Tales. Here, the kids are being mountains...
The kids at Swansea Elementary liked being mountains too:
Although the biggest hit was when my dog Bernie came up in the slideshow (wearing his glasses from ARLO NEEDS GLASSES by Barney Saltzberg. Can you see the slide? Huge screams and laughter!
Joan, me and Martha grabbed lunch at a very funky and yummy Tex-Mex sort of restaurant:
Our last school was Goldrick Elementary and boy do they have a dedicated teacher in Ms. Denise. It always amazes me how hard teachers work, in and outside of their regular work hours, to get what each child needs to move ahead. They should all be canonized (made into saints).
This was the most formal setting of all the schools. Isn't it adorable seeing all those little heads poking above the seat backs?
At each school, I do a demonstration drawing where the kids come up to help draw the basic shapes I'll work with. I have to say, the rubber duckie we ended up with at Goldrick was my favorite one ever! He ended up so wonky and happy with a huge head. We mostly did duckies, but I did a cow at Swansea. I let the kids shout their favorite color and whatever color I hear first or loudest ends up being the color of the cow. It's my own version of Andy Warhols. I dedicate any art we make to the schools, so they're all over the country now - that makes me happy.
But we weren't done yet! For the cherry on top, we visited the lovely old Carnegie library of Park Hill where I shared A BIRD ON WATER STREET with budding teen writers while we ate yummy Chipotle - buffet style. (It was really good and worked well for those of you who need an idea for a similar event.) These were smart young women (+ one guy) and it was a thrill to share their brain-space for a little while.
Okay, so after that I was done, fried, kaput. My now good friend Martha drove me to the airport the next morning. We saw fields of protected Prairie Dogs - I wanted to hug them all, and more of the gorgeous Denver landscape. The airport and flight were uneventful and direct - all good. And hubbie caught me when I landed. That night and Thursday were a bit of a boneless blur on the couch, must admit. But now I'm feeling better and going through the sweet thank you art and "I love this book" art students made for me. I tell ya, that's the best chicken soup of all!
Thank you so much to Joan and Martha as well as the Denver Public Library system for making my visit possible. I know I love school visits, but I also think they're amazing for the kids (even when it's other authors). It helps them understand writing and the creative process and to see that all the books they love have real people behind them, and that they can do something like become an author too if they want. (Or a fireman, or a basketball star, or, or, or...) It's all about building exceptional futures and I'm proud to be a very small part of that.