I don’t do many school visits in the fall but this month I have quite a few lined up and today was my first. I returned from Toronto early Sunday morning and worried I might be too emotionally wound up to face this full week. But my aunt’s funeral on Saturday truly was a celebration of her life—complete with tambourines for the mourners!—and my short trip was full of love and laughter (and food). I came back to Brooklyn feeling tired but truly blessed to be part of such a loving family.
Today I spent the entire day at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School and was so impressed with the school, the staff, and the students. It’s definitely one of the MOST diverse schools I’ve ever visited and the building itself seemed to have a different kind of energy. Before each presentation the Humanities teacher, Ms. Beerman, asked for a student volunteer to lead the class in a simple breathing exercise—they opened their hands, took a deep breath, exhaled, and prepared to be strong communicators! Despite getting off to a rocky start (I said the US had 52 states) I soon felt at home with the 7th-grade students and truly enjoyed hearing about their historical fiction projects. I presented before 4 classes and led more intimate writing workshops with 3 small groups. Here are the day’s highlights:
- During my second writing workshop, the black girl next to me saw my copy of Bird and said, “Oh! I read that book over and over at my aunt’s house. She writes for kids, too.” Me: “Really? What’s her name?” Her: “Jacqueline Woodson.”
- In that same writing workshop a white student sat down across from me and set her copy of A Wish After Midnight on the table. Her: “I missed my stop this morning because I was reading your book.”
- During the Q&A at the end of one of my presentations, a young man kept asking about Ship of Souls. Him: “But is D ever in mortal danger?” Me: “Are you sure you want me to answer that?” Teacher: “You can get the book at the library.” Him: “OUR library?” The period ended and within TWO MINUTES that boy was back in the classroom with the library’s copy of Ship of Souls. Him: “The librarian wants to know if you’ll sign this book before I check it out.”
- I had a chance to play the trailer for The Deep and had to smile as the kids immediately recognized Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and started bobbing their heads and tapping their pencils to the beat.
- On my way out I asked the friendly security guard how to find the F train and she walked me out to the street to give me directions. A tall, tenth-grade student overheard us and said, “I can take her to the train.” And so we walked there together and she told me about the books she liked and how her teacher took them to see The Hunger Games after they read the novel in class. Before parting ways I handed her one of my postcards and told her to check out some of my books. “You mean you wrote these?” she asked, clearly surprised. Fingers crossed she also makes a beeline for the library…
And now—back to grading…