Sunday, June 3, 2018

Pure Magic

Scholastic Book Fairs sent me on a whirlwind speaking tour this spring to introduce CHASING AUGUSTUS and BEHOLDING BEE to nearly 3,500 young readers in Lexington, KY, Chattanooga, TN, and northern Georgia public and private schools. I spoke in huge gymnasiums with 450-plus students and also in small libraries where all the children sat on the floor and shared from their heart. It seems every child has a dog story! And I shared mine:  How CHASING AUGUSTUS was inspired by the dog of our dreams, Sally. Here's a bit of my talks, and some pictures of the new friends I met. I will always treasure these memories.

The love we had for our rescue dog, Sally, sparked CHASING AUGUSTUS.

I shared with the students how I stuttered when I was their age and how my words didn’t come out right and how they got all jumbled up and speaking was very difficult for me.  Because of this I was incredibly shy. I turned to books to find strong characters who could survive, no matter what hurdles stood in front of them.

My new friend is telling me about his life and about the books he wants to write.

I made so many new friends!

Some groups were very large!

Some were in small school libraries. 

(These talks are wonderful because we can all share our dog stories!)

I shared how the hardest thing when I was young was saying my name and I couldn’t do it and so I stayed silent. I was teased and I tried to pretend that it didn't bother me. Even adults would say things like slow down, relax, take a breath, or sometimes they’d say: "What’s wrong, don’t you know you own name?"

Or they’d look away, embarrassed, and that was the worst of all. More than anything I wanted to hide.

So what was the miracle that turned my life around?


Of course, I had no idea at the time what an incredible and wonderful miracle they would become in my life, but it wasn’t long before they were as important to me as breathing.

I realized books made me stronger and my life better. And do you know what happens when you read a lot of books? Sometimes you start thinking, I would like to do that, I would like to write a book! And that’s just what happened to me, and that became the second amazing and wonderful miracle in my life. I found that when I wrote I was happy and peaceful and my heart soared. 

Suddenly, in the sixth grade, I had a voice!

I let my pen do the talking for me! 

I started writing ALL THE TIME!

And teachers became the third miracle in my life. They noticed my writing and said I was talented, and they pushed me and encouraged me and believed in me. They showed me that my stuttering did not determine my destiny. I could choose my own destiny. And I decided it would be writing.

"Gripping...Magnificent." Kirkus starred review.

In college I began ten years of private speech therapy with an amazing speech pathologist who would help transform me into a fluent speaker. Today, I've given more than a hundred talks in classrooms, libraries, conference centers, auditoriums and gymnasiums - and more requests than I can handle come in every year.  Some gymnasium crowds have been as large as 750 young people!

When I share with students the stories about the hurdles I jumped over,  they want to talk about the mountains they face. 

It seems that we all have something to overcome, to deal with, to grow through.  Sometimes it’s on the outside for the world to see, like stuttering, sometimes it’s more hidden, like having trouble reading or losing a grandparent or a dog we love. But it seems to be universal that we all have something.

The miracle is that with family and extraordinary teachers and great mentors behind us, helping us, encouraging us, showing us that we matter and that we are important and that we have something to say, then we can rise up and reach our potential.

We can change the mental map in our heads that says, "I can’t," to "YES, I CAN!!!"

And that’s what Rosalita Gillespie discovers in Chasing Augustus.

She might lose what she loves most, the true-blue-friend of her soul, her dog Augustus, but she finds him again through hope, perseverance, daring, and her own resourcefulness. She discovers within herself a resilience and courage she didn't know she had.  She is unsinkable.

Lining up after the talk, waiting patiently for a signed book. The thrill of signing a book for a child never, ever goes away.

I sign my books "Find Courage - Read!" or "Be Happy - Read!"

I am so grateful to the amazing school librarians all over the country who champion reading.

I am incredibly grateful to Scholastic field managers Les Kevehazi in GA and TN
and Logan Nance in KY, and their staffs, including Javonne Smith, Sally Otott, and Cris Sailers, for making these trips possible.  Also, huge thanks to Robin Baily Hoffman, Director of Sales & Product Programs for Scholastic Book Fairs, who pushes the books she loves out into the world.

Les Kevehazi and Javonne Smith in TN and GA.

Logan Nance in Lexington, KY

In front of the Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel

Back home again in Foster, RI, with our dog, Harper.

Already hard at work on a new novel!