You're in the midst of sharing MRS. CLAUS with students. What are some of the questions kids are asking about the story and about writing books?
I’m so glad you asked this! I just visited a Virginia school where I talked to pre-K through 8th grade, and the middle school students were working on analyzing the plots of some of my books. One group chose Mrs. Claus Takes the Reins and let me know they were working on the theme of grit. Which I love. It’s the perfect word to describe the heart of the story. Since Mrs. C doesn’t have magic, she relies on her intellect, quick-thinking, and grit! At another school visit this fall, the kids noticed and appreciated that Mrs. Claus is using modern technology to get the job done—her list and her map are all on her handy tablet! At school visits, I often get asked “What’s the hardest part about writing a book?” My answer is usually, writing the ending. I have lots of stories started and stalled because I haven’t found quite the right way to end it. I always strive to ‘bring it home’ at the end, and there’s not always a clear path to the end!
School visits provide such wonderful quality time with young readers. How do you structure your school visit days, to make the most of this precious time?
I feel like I could talk all day long about writing, my books, my process, so I need to be conscious of our (the students and myself) precious time together. In order to give the school the most bang for their buck, I offer a variety of presentations geared towards the different grades/ages, from nuggets about writing and how I get my ideas, to research, revising, and getting to the heart of your story. But I always make sure I touch on the things I think they’ll find the most interesting, that they can take back to their own writing—to feel like they really got something out of my time with them, rather than just being entertained. My hope is always that it kicks their brains into gear so the teachers can piggyback on my visit and extend the messages into their lesson plans. So far, the feedback from schools is that this is happening, so hooray!
Can you share a story from a school visit, that hit an emotional chord with you or has inspired your work?
At one school visit last spring, I was talking about research for one of my books that involves a machine that the character builds (Mary Had a Little Lab). I asked the kids, “If you could invent a machine that could make anything, what would it be?” Some answers included ice cream, unicorns, money, wishes, and then one boy said, “I would invent a machine that makes Sue Fliesses, so you could be here every day!” I got a little choked up! The kids’ enthusiasm and joy that I am visiting their school is totally contagious, and absolutely the most rewarding thing about school visits. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this with my life!