Thursday, February 10, 2011

Way-out Wisconsin, part 1 of 2

On 2/7 and 2/8/11, I got to experience the most remote areas in which I’ve done school visits to date: the hilly, snowy, wild west of Wisconsin, where the people are as nice as the roads are uncrowded. I spent hours on those roads, where cell reception was rare, as were stop signs.

The first day I spoke in Fennimore. It was the first time I can recall seeing hunting books in a school library. How-to hunting books. But I should not have been surprised, given this sign I passed en route:

I wonder what the wild turkey hunting capital of the country is?

A highlight of this visit was lunch. I got to eat it with four articulate students (a third grader and three fifth graders) who'd won a school essay contest. The topic: “Why I Want to Have Lunch with the Author.” Though none had written this in their heartwarming essays (which each read to me), the homemade lunch could've easily been a justifiable answer: it included sauceless mini-vegetable pizzas and homemade Rice Krispie treats iced with chocolate. (Last time I had one had to be at least 20 years ago.)

This was also the first time I gave away a copy of my book Vanished: True Stories of the Missing during a school visit. I didn’t want to do it by asking a question and awarding the book to the person who gave the correct answer, because there were almost definitely be multiple students who would know the answer to any given question, and I wouldn't be able to call on all of them.

So I went random. I said whoever has the same initials as I do would get the book.

No one did.

So I cycled through maybe eight more sets of initials…no dice. Ultimately, I gave the book to all the students—in other words, to the library.

Another highlight of this visit was not only how many books the students bought…

(The books once signed and readied to be distributed in classes.)

…but an incident that occurred while I was signing them.

Two students, a young man and a young woman, were at nearby computers in the library. They were half-paying attention to what I was doing. My library media specialist host and a library aide were there, too. We all began talking. I asked the students what grade they were in. They said they were both seniors, meaning they had not seen me present. It came up that I was an author (perhaps the signing made that obvious from the start).

The young man said he loved to read; the young woman reacted incredulously to that. Then she said she never reads. They playfully squabbled with each other about that topic. I couldn’t tell if either or both of them were putting on an act. But I liked them.

What I don’t like is hearing that someone doesn’t read, even if a joke. So to try to do my very small part of a job their teachers do regularly (meaning trying to inspire a love of reading), I handed each a copy of Vanished. The young man seemed keen about the subject matter. The young woman seemed keen to get a signature from someone “famous” (though I quickly corrected her perception by explaining that I'm not famous if she hasn’t heard of me). They thanked me and had to go.

I learned that both were in the library because they were not doing as well as they should be in school; to try to improve their grades, they do additional coursework there several times a week. The librarians took it as a good sign that both of these teens gratefully accepted the book I gave them.

And in the young man's next class, which included 20 minutes of free reading, that was the book he chose. He even came back up to me to ask me for clarification on something I'd written.

When he went back to class, the library aide whispered, "Breakthrough."

Way-out Wisconsin, part 2 of 2.

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