Friday, April 27, 2007

Challenger Elementary

I absolutely must write about an author visit I made to Challenger Elementary in Thief River Falls on Monday. It was my first experience with a school visit, so I didn't know what to expect, and went prepared with material as I always do for any public speaking engagement. After all, I thought, these are fourth and fifth graders; they won't have read the book.

Arriving at the school, however, I was completely surprised to be greeted by a huge sign proclaiming "Welcome, S.T. Underdahl!" In addition and even more remarkably, the walls were literally plastered with 50-60 posters, made by the children, each depicting events and emotions from "The Other Sister." "Did the kids actually read the book?" I asked in wonder. (It's a young adult novel, after all) "No," the world's best librarian, Jamie Bakken, replied. "I read it and told them what it was about." She must have done an amazing job of it, I thought, looking at all the dead-on interpretations the children had produced.

The visit with the children was equally mind-boggling; I never even got to touch the material I'd prepared on "How to Become a Writer," because each group kept me hopping for thirty high-intensity minutes, answer questions that ranged from "How long did it take you to write "The Other Sister?" to "Do you plan a sequel?" to "What other books have you written?" Of course there were a few of the "How many pets do you have and what are their names?" variety, which are equally fun, and a couple kids wanted to impress upon me how mean their siblings are to them. In the end, I came away terribly impressed by the intelligence, poise, and inquiring minds of 'kids these days.' I don't think I would have had the courage to ask a single question when I was ten or eleven years old, but I'm greatly cheered knowing how far we've come.

I feel like these promotional events are teaching me so many unexpected things about people, when as a psychologist I would have thought that I already knew a heck of a lot. Go figure.

So thanks, Challenger kids; you were an absolute treat and a revelation!

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