On the road with SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL

Sophie's Squash Go to SchoolFive cities in six days.

That’s how things rolled on my first book tour this October. I flew into a city, slept, woke up and visited two or three schools. Then I’d go the airport, fly to the next city, sleep and visit more schools.

I traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Cincinnati, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; Salt Lake City, Utah; and San Francisco, California this way.

My audience was kindergarteners through second graders. My topic was my new book SOPHIE’S SQUASH GO TO SCHOOL, the sequel to SOPHIE’S SQUASH. I used the books to talk about how an idea can become a story and a story can become a book, touching on creativity and persistence along the way.

I worked hard on my presentation, and I think the kids learned things from me. But my big take-away from the tour was how many things I learned from the students and their teachers. Things that will make be a better writer, a better presenter and a better person.

For example:

Public education is not equal. Intellectually, I guess I knew this, but seeing it firsthand was sobering. I was in some public schools so well-equipped and fancy and full of resources, that they looked like mini colleges. One school offered its students catered lunches from local sushi restaurants. I was in other public schools that were old and worn and had few resources. One school had no library at all. Another had a library but no librarian. And another had one librarian working valiantly to serve seven separate schools. All the kids were curious and eager, and all the teachers and librarians were doing their best, but the difference in resources was striking. And sometimes sad.

Schools across America are very diverse. After seeing the schools and kids I did, I have a much better understanding of who my audience is. And now that I know firsthand, I will never, ever write a book the same way. I live in Wisconsin, which certainly has diverse schools, but also has sections of the state that are almost exclusively Caucasian. This was not the case on my tour. One school I spoke at was 95 percent African-American. Another was largely Hispanic with a substantial African immigrant population. A third was mostly Asian and East Indian. These schools were in urban and suburban neighborhoods, and each had its own feel. Being face-to-face with so many great kids from so many great backgrounds in so many different locations was enlightening and affirming. I want to respectfully reflect those schools in my books.

Everything I’ve read about school visits going best when the teachers or librarians have talked you up and prepped the kids for your arrival is true. Several schools had the kids so well-prepared that they thought I was a rock star and reacted accordingly. Those visits were great. Other schools had done no prep work and the kid were herded in with little fanfare or expectation setting. In one case, I heard one kid ask another, “Why are we here?” Those visits were more of a challenge, but still turned out OK. And, I was in enough schools to learn common phrases teachers use, like: “We’re going to sit on our bottoms with our hands in our laps and put on our listening ears and show Mrs. Miller what good Spartan behavior looks like.” And: “Who has a question? Something they don’t know but they’d like to find out. Not a story, but a question.” Oh, and if you ever visit schools, make sure to bring your driver’s license even if you aren’t driving. Many schools ran my license through a machine that printed out a visitor’s pass with my photo on it and, I’m told, vetted me against a sexual predator list.

Librarians make a difference. In one school, I saw a librarian take a delighted child by the hand and say, “Have I got a book for YOU!” Another librarian helped a kindergartner decide which of two books to check out. And, a third librarian had two book-loving sixth-graders assisting her in the library, and they were so pleased to talk with her about what they were reading. And many of the librarians had spent time before my visit reading my books to the kids, showing them videos of me and making bulletin boards or signs with the kids and posting them around the school. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I love librarians.

Booksellers are awesome. I adore bookstores too and was lucky enough to be able to visit and browse in many of the stores that helped coordinate my visit. I had some great discussions with booksellers about their favorite books. Several also shared what they’ve done in their communities to promote SOPHIE’S SQUASH, which was great. I bought so many books, I had to ship them home separately because they wouldn’t fit in my luggage. Much love to Boswell Books, The Blue Manatee, The King’s English, The Book Stall and Rakestraw Books.

A lot of cool things happened that don’t fit into the above categories, so here are …

My 10 most memorable moments:

  • A girl saying, “It’s going to be a GREAT day.” I asked her why and she said, “Because I met you.”
  • A tiny girl whispering to me, “I’m going to go home and tell my mom I want to write books.”
  • A school receptionist greeting me with: “Don’t touch the counter! We just had a student with pink eye and he touched EVERYTHING.” (Then, thankfully, she gave me hand sanitizer.)
  • A group of eighth graders who were in the library for a study hall while I was speaking to the younger kids. As I left, an eighth grader picked up SOPHIE’S SQUASH and started reading it to his friends.
  • Seeing pictures of a student’s cousin who loved SOPHIE’S SQUASH so much that she acquired several butternut squashes of her own, which her mom sewed beds for. The pictures showed all the squash tucked into bed. It broke the cuteness meter.
  • Being asked: “Where’s your dad?” during an open question-and-answer session. I have no idea what prompted that question, but I answered it – in Oshkosh, Wisconsin – and we moved on. My next favorite where-did-that-come-from question was: “Are your glasses real?” If you’re wondering the same thing, the answer is “Yes.”
  • A librarian saying the fourth-graders were sorry they didn’t get a chance to hear me. So I offered to do a presentation just for them, and we fit it in before I had to leave for the airport.
  • Several students who showed me books they were working on. Usually it was notebooks full of words, but once it was a beautifully drawn cover with blank pages afterward waiting for the story.
  • A first- or second-grader who surprised me by accurately defining alliteration. I told him he was my new best friend.
  • A boy who asked if he could take a selfie with me. We did, he left and then he came back because he wanted to shake my hand.

So the tour was awesome, and I’m extremely grateful to Schwartz & Wade for sending me on it and to Chris Barton, Phil Bildner and Liz Garton Scanlon for giving me invaluable tour tips. (Highlights included: “Always say ‘yes,’ if someone asks if you need to visit the restroom.” “Bring your own wireless clicker to advance your slides so you can walk around while you talk.” “Teachers love it when you talk about revision.” “Have a Plan B if your technology fails.”)

And, while I’ve finished reading all the books I had shipped home, I’m still processing everything I experienced and making notes on what I’d do differently if I ever get to visit five cities in six days again.

I know for sure it would be worth the trip.

62 Comments:

  1. Thanks for the wonderful insights -I’m glad it was such a success!

  2. Yikes! This sounds amazing and inspiring – and exhausting in the best possible way. Thanks for sharing with us, Pat! So glad you’re back. 🙂

  3. What an exciting adventure. Sounds exhausting and rewarding at the same time. Thanks for sharing, Pat.

  4. This was great. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Pat! What a wonderful experience and story–loved reading it–very touching! 🙂

  6. Awesome insights and tips. So happy you got this rock star experience!

  7. LOVE!!!! So happy to hear of your positive experience!

  8. What a gift to be able to visit and experience the world your books inhabit and to meet those who your books influence. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of that journey which may only ever be a dream for many of us.

  9. Wonderful advice, Pat! Thank you for sharing these fabulous experiences.

  10. Thanks so much for sharing this. Very heartwarming and inspiring to hear of your experience!

  11. Thanks for this heartfelt post. As a retired teacher, I started missing my classroom. I also have to say your experience is exactly what I would have expected. I am glad you appreciated it.

  12. Sounds wonderful! Interesting observations. And I love those memorable moments. 🙂

  13. I think those kids were so lucky to be able to meet you and be blessed by your
    kind heart and giving ways. Who knows if you just inspired the next Jane Yolen, Kevin Henkes or Pat Zietlow-Miller! They say it only takes one person to change your life and I’ll bet you changed more than one.
    Thank for sharing your experience with us.

  14. What a tremendous experience! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  15. What an amazing experience and such wonderful insight. Definitely taking notes for when the time comes.

  16. Thanks for sharing your wonderful school visit experiences! It reaffirms why we do what we do!

  17. What a great post Pat! It took me back to my teaching days! Can’t wait to go back as an author and share in these experiences!

  18. Oh, Pat, thanks for sharing! It’s fun hearing about how you inspired the kids. And you’re so right about the inequality in schools. It’s so, so unfair.

  19. Thanks for sharing your experience! I learned a lot.

  20. I forsee a Sophie’s Squash Travel title! 🙂

  21. Great info and what a fun time. Sophie’s Squash is adorable.

  22. This is a great post! Thanks for sharing your experiences…big and small!

  23. What a great post. Loved hearing about your tour of schools. I just love talking with kids who are interested in reading and books.

  24. I worked last school year as a reading mentor with k -3 graders in a Title I school. I had to leave that position this school year due to some schedule conflicts within my family. Your post brought it all back to me and reminds me how much I miss working with those munchkins. I got some great story ideas from them, but mostly, I was rewarded every day with joy.

  25. Sounds like a wonderful experience for you, the librarians, and, above all, the kids. Your observations about the variability of resources, facilities, and preparation in each setting are a total match with my own lifetime experience in education. The best part of it all was that the visits took place, and that they were with you.

  26. I enjoyed hearing your experience. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  27. Thank you for sharing your experience! I loved reading this!

  28. Thanks for these excellent tips! I especially love your most memorable moments. What an exciting time for you!

  29. What a fabulous experience, Pat. Thanks for sharing it with us, and welcome back to PBB!

  30. What a successful and enriching experience you had, Pat. The joy you brought to the children you visited and the joy they, in turn, gave to you shines through each insight and anecdote.

  31. That is awesome! Thanks for sharing. I’ll be reading your book to my students soon!

  32. I loved reading this. Thanks for sharing your book tour experience with us.

  33. Great tips! Thank you. I’m saving your ideas in case I ever get to do school visits!

  34. Thanks so much, Pat, for sharing about your experience! I’m taking notes for future reference. Congratulations on the book tour!

  35. Thanks for sharing good information and sweet experiences❤️ Saw you in Chicago and agree with all the kiddos!

  36. Wow! What a trip. Thanks for sharing the journey.

  37. Margaret Greanias

    Wow! Thank you for the insights. Very cool that you got to go on a real book tour and that you got to visit a diversity of schools!

  38. Loved reading this! Fun and insightful (and whew! Action-packed!). Thanks for sharing.

  39. It was so nice meeting up with you in Cincinnati, even if I wasn’t on your tour schedule! Thanks for allowing me to ‘crash’ your dinner!

  40. Your talent is real. Your generosity is real. Your keen observations are real. And, it’s good to know, your glasses are real. Thanks for sharing your experience and insights, Pat!

  41. The random comments are so funny! Love school visits! 🙂

  42. Pat, Thanks for the knowledge and inspiration. I remember the first time I was with people 95% African American/Hispanic/etc, and I was clearly aware I was the minority. I remember that feeling to this day and try to bring it up when I notice a minority situation. Thanks for re-opening my eyes.

  43. Pat, I’m so happy for you. What an amazing experience, thank you for sharing! 🙂

  44. Loved hearing about your book tour, Pat! Sounds amazing. 🙂

  45. Aww! The teacher in me started sniffling reading your highlights at the bottom. What a wonderful experience to hear about.

  46. Wow, Pat! Sounds like this was a life-changing experience for you. Thanks so much for sharing the details with us. It’s a BIG job, but you’ve reminded us to try to write for ALL kids — everywhere, May every little life you touched be inspired to DO too!

  47. Thanks for sharing the details. Very inspirational! I’m sure you touched many little lives.

  48. This is such a great post! I’ve been working and/or volunteering in public schools for 20 years. So many people are out-of-touch with classrooms, libraries, and the populations that fill our schools. Thanks for sharing this, and I’m going to share this post too.

    A side note–The King’s English was my childhood bookstore! I’m not in Salt Lake anymore, but I can smell that store when I close my eyes. 🙂

  49. Pat, This was a wonderful, poignant, funny, and informative post! How great that your publisher sent you on that trip. I didn’t know they did that anymore. But, when you’re a superstar . . . Congratulations!

  50. Great post! Thank you.

  51. Thanks for this wonderful post, Pat. I’m so glad your experience was great and that you experienced so many different things! I loved all of your sharing about the children 🙂

  52. Very interesting. Would love to see the notes on things you’d do differently (as you mentioned at the end of your piece) at a later date.

    • My top “do differently” ideas are:

      1. Bring a larger suitcase.
      2. Make sure my laptop bag has a shoulder strap.
      3. Save a copy of my presentation out on some universally accessible site like Google Docs.
      4. Drink more water.
      5. Look for even more ways to be interactive with the kids.

  53. Oh, I dream to be so lucky as to travel and do this! Thanks for sharing your insights.

  54. What a wonderful post, Pat! I loved reading every word of it!

  55. Thanks for the great post Pat! So happy the tour went well! And yes, you always need your driver’s license!

  56. Loved this so much, Pat! Thank you for sharing…this will be so very helpful to all of us who are just embarking on this journey. You rock!!!

  57. Great Post Pat! When I worked in the library as an assistant, our librarian ALWAYS introduced books of the upcoming author visit. She was the best! Alas, we had budget cuts and she is no longer there but I do teach reading 🙂 I am also writing PBs and love my 12 x 12 group of authors. Technology can be tricky so while I’m revising-sometimes on scraps of paper or bank deposit slips (yep, just found one in my car) I keep them to add to my binder of that draft so someday…if technology fails while I’m presenting (I believe!) I can pull out my binders and talk about revision.
    Love Sophie’s Squash and the journey it took to get it published. I have hope through your story! Thank you!

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