Last year The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring was selected to be on the Washington State book list. This meant that students all across the state were reading my book along with other fabulous picture books, until one book was voted their favorite.
The Marvelous Thing did not get the grand prize, but a librarian in Snohomish enjoyed the artwork so much that she inquired if I would be willing to travel across the country to visit her school, Seattle Hill Elementary. As a writer and illustrator who rarely gets a chance to leave his apartment in Brooklyn, the idea of seeing the Pacific Northwest sounded like an enticing adventure I couldn’t refuse.
In order to get me to Snohomish, other schools would have to contribute so that the total cost was not burdened on one school. The librarian held a PTA meeting and was able to generate enough interest from three other schools to share the cost of my expenses. It was decided in a year, I would give 9 presentations in 3 days at 4 different schools: Riverview, Dutch Hill, Cascade View, and Seattle Hill.
To prepare, I practiced driving (a lot has changed since owning a car in 1996!), and I took on speaking engagements for illustrating covers for the SCBWI NY chapter and National Winter Conference, as well as local school visits.
A year later, with snow just beginning to thaw, my plane landed in Seattle. I drove a rental car through rush hour traffic an hour north to Snohomish. I arrived at twilight to a beautiful town with a main street hosting a variety of restaurants and antique shops. The vibe was laid back and friendly, where everyone said “Hi!” when passing. It reminded me of a modern day Norman Rockwell Americana. And I was fortunate enough to visit the library near my hotel, where a book club meeting was jam-packed with parents and kids to hear Kirby Larson give her presentation on her Newbery Honor book, Hattie Big Sky.
And the nine presentations I gave?!
I’d heard that Mercury was in retrograde the week I’d be in Washington, and since I’m superstitious, I came prepared for a disaster. I’d packed an extra zip drive, exporting my presentation to both power point and keynote, packing extra pens, water, etc. Even with some technical glitches with microphones, the show was a success.
On the plane ride home, I reflected over 2,000 plus students I’d encountered, the friendly librarians I’d shared stories of Harper with over lunch, and the town of Snohomish. I felt like Bilbo Baggins. I’d traveled across the map on quite an adventure, overcoming obstacles, and I’d made some new friends along the way.
I spent the first weekend in November promoting The Marvelous Thing That Came From a Spring in the D.C. area.
Friday morning I visited Burnt Mills Elementary School and put on a presentation for the first grade students. The whole thing was set up through An Open Book Foundation, a nonprofit bringing authors to schools that have never had an author visit, and purchasing a book for each child. It was an honor to be included in their roster of authors, and I hope to work with them again on my next visit to D.C.
The students at Burnt Mills were mesmerized by the process video in my presentation, where they got to see my apartment, how I work and live, and how I create the dioramas in the book. The takeaway for the presentation, as well as the book, was the importance of having an idea, and no matter how quirky, an idea can become a reality through hard work and careful planning. After I read the book, I drew some of the students’ ideas on new uses for the Slinky on a pad of paper.
After the school visit, I had a joint book release at Hooray for Books with writer and teacher, Mary Quattlebaum. Mary taught me when I attended Vermont College of Fine Arts, so I was really happy to reconnect with her after not seeing her for over a year. Many of Mary’s students and friends attended the event to show their support so Mary dressed as a Cheetah for her new book Together Forever, and somehow, she coerced me into wrapping aluminum foil around my suspenders so I could go as a Slinky.
The D.C. trip ended with a panel discussion on how to break into publishing children’s books held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.