I’m going to tell a story first, but please read to the end, there’s a freebie book for one of you at that point!
I was feeling diffident about writing about this, possibly from a fear of Putting Myself Forward and Bragging, I have no idea. But I’m just going to rave delightedly instead, and share the joy. Yesterday was the release date of Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods and with my ill-fitting Librarian hat on (I think I prefer the title, developed by a friend, of Lexorcist, given that I’m in no way trained as a librarian) I arranged to have the wonderful author, Catherynne M. Valente, make a Zoom class visit to the Grade 3 class that comes to the school library where I work. (The Changeling is in that class, by the way, but I swear it wasn’t– just– preferential treatment, ok? They’re the oldest group that comes to the library and I thought the best-suited for Osmo.)
I was, in all honesty, a bit worried. These students had not, as a class, ever had an author visit. This was a NYT bestselling author who was being incredibly generous, and doing this visit on the very release date. Not to put too fine a point on it– I was sweating when I walked into the room and some of the kids were so overexcited we delayed admitting her on Zoom until the room calmed. I was convinced it would be a disaster and I’d be emailing Ms Valente a stilted and abject apology.
It was magical. First of all, and this is me speaking to any teachers or real librarians (the kind who aren’t swanning around with a hoity-toity yup I’m a librarian hat on, like me) out there, I can’t even tell you how great a class visit Cat Valente does. She gives a very brief chat so they know who she is, and then tells them her priority is for them to get to hear answers to any questions they have for her– that everyone should have their chance. And then she listens carefully, and she doesn’t talk down to the kids– she really, really listens to them and gives full answers that demonstrate she’s heard them.
For her, she told me when I thanked her, it was wonderful to get to end by reading them the opening of the book and hear them recite the oath (oh yeah, the book opens with an oath, get ready to raise your hand and make an oath when you read!) along with her. Which, I’m in full agreement, made me so happy– especially when the whole thing ended and I heard one student say to another: “OK, don’t forget you took an oath! You can’t forget!” But for me, the most special bit was earlier: when a student who’s not always the easiest (though I love the kid dearly) asked a question which blew me away, and got the reply, “That is a deeper question about writing craft than most adults ask! What I’d say is…” And, later to the group, “You’re asking incredibly impressive questions…” And I could only think, “I’m learning from these kids just how much there is to them from what I thought was a treat for them. This is more of a treat for me, seeing how great they are.” It was a wonderful conversation, and, after we said goodbye and ended the Zoom, a student, flushed with excitement, said that hearing the author give one of the answers had helped them figured out a story they wanted to write. “Show it to me when you’re ready, please bring it to the library!” I urged.
At dinner that night, the Changeling told me that the class had made a list for the order in which the students get to read the school copy of Osmo. And I thought to myself that if there’s one thing I got to do for the kids this year it was getting them one day when they’re really excited about a book with a cross skadgebat and mysterious forest and a brilliant collection of mushrooms… and about books, empathy, and telling stories. That’s more than I’d hoped for.
So, in thanks to Catherynne M. Valente for the enormous gift she gave me of seeing that bookish joy and inspiration in action– a giveaway of Osmo Unknown and the Eightpenny Woods! (That link is to bookshop.org though please always consider supporting your local independent book shop. Or win this giveaway.)
If you agree to take the oath seriously please email me: “I will take the oath seriously.” My email address is email@example.com and I will choose ONE winner, I will mail anywhere in the world (that’s a promise– I’ve sent mail to Australia and the South Pole, so believe me), and I will choose a winner at random on Monday, May 4 in the morning, so email before 8 am Eastern time. I will choose a random winner from those who email me, and I will reply by email. Did I mention that you should communicate by email? firstname.lastname@example.org again. I will not be able to keep track otherwise.