Monday, June 18, 2012

Bookapalooza: in which I meet two of my favorite authors from my childhood


You know I love a good book festival.  But if that book festival happens to be in my own TOWN?  How could I resist?  I'll admit, the weather helped.  If it had been blazing hot, I'm not sure I could have forced myself out for hours but it was unseasonably GORGEOUS outside.  The other thing that helped?  An UNBELIEVABLE list of authors.  I couldn't believe they got all these talented artists to come to our little Baltimore-Washington-corridor town.  But come they did, here's the low down:

We got there late because of swim team and because I needed a chill out for a while.  Plus, Clint was out running with a friend and I thought the boys would do better staying at home this time.  I think, although there were times when I wished they'd been there, it would've been tricky to make them wait through all the other parts.

Oh, back up.  One of the authors that was speaking the morning - very first, I believe, was Katherine Paterson.  How I wanted to hear her.  It was, unfortunately, smack in the middle of swim and I felt like I needed to be there for my kids.  I was really bummed.  And here is why.  When I was a girl, there were a few books that I just kept reading over and over.  Comfort books.  One was The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye.  One was Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman.  But the one I read the most often, in the years that matter the most, was Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson.  I re-read it recently, and wrote this about it:

This book is dear to my heart.  It was my favorite as a teenager.  I have been mulling over why it is that this book appealed to me so much. I was so unsure of myself as a preteen/young teen. I was too tall, self-conscious, acne-ridden, you name it. I was so unhappy so much of the time. I lost myself in books and I luckily always counted my mother as a friend. The main character of this book, Louise, I think reminds me just so much of myself. Granted, I wasn't a twin, but I always felt like the world was against me and that I had nothing special to offer. Her feelings, even reading them now, are so familiar and comforting in the sense that I recognized that I was not alone. Her crabbiness was a bit damping when I read it this time - but it's probably that same crabbiness that made her such a relatable character to me when I was young. Strange that this book made me feel like I was not alone in my sorrow and loneliness.

Reading it through this time, probably for the first time in 12 or 13 years, I have a whole new appreciation for the work of art that it is. While I remembered that she lived on an island and her father worked the water, I had no memory of it taking place in MARYLAND. Right on the eastern shore - a place that is now familiar to me. And Paterson does a fine job of making the shore a tangible and real place. I enjoyed learning about crabbing and oystering, she mentions terrapins (go TERPS!!) and Louise even ends up at the University of Maryland, my alma mater. I feel even more connected to this book now as I did then. The final chapter is heartbreakingly beautiful to me - I would even sometimes just pull out the book and read just that chapter a couple of times. It gave me such hope to see Louise happy, having finally found the courage to take a chance, and find herself and a place where she belongs.

Okay.  So Katherine Paterson wrote a book that really mattered to me.  And I missed her talk.  But we arrived at the book festival, walked past all the fun crafts and games, over to where the authors were speaking.  Sheely was anxious to find out about one of HER favorite authors who was coming - Mary Downing Hahn.  When we got to the table to check in and get stickers for book signings (they gave you a line number to get your book signed so you didn't have to spend all day in line!  GENIUS!), I saw a little note on the program that said that Katherine Paterson would be available at another time to sign books.

I asked the worker, "Is this really TRUE?"

And she pointed over to a table with a lone woman sitting at it and just about no line.  

OH the joy.  I had even brought my original copy of the book that I'd read as a girl for her to sign, JUST in case.

So, I met her. And she was gracious and kind, of course.  And she let Sheely take a picture of us:

That was a really great moment.  I know that probably she hears from people all the time that her books mattered to people, but she'd never heard it from me. I kind of like imaging that younger Corinne, sitting in the crook of a tree over a lake, reading that book like it was some sort of elixir, not knowing what life had in store for her.  I kind of wish I could just hug her and tell her it is going to be hard but okay.

Okay, so that was just in the first five minutes we were there :)

Then we sat down and listened to the mother/daughters trio that write The Dork Diaries, which Sheely likes.  Rachel Renee Russell and her illustrator daughter, especially, did a fine job of talking about following your passions and about how how dorky they were when THEY were young.  They did a fun little trivia quiz too.

THEN were we in for a treat.  Tom Angleberger - heard of him?  If you have a nine year old son like me, chances are you HAVE (this was the part where I felt bad for leaving Xavey at home).  He wrote that Origami Yoda book.  And here is a secret about HIM; he is HILARIOUS.  I mean, I was having actual fits of laughter.   He had us all fold our own origami Yoda but he also played the "what am I drawing" game in which he called every person he called on to guess, "Larry."  I am now an even bigger fan and from his very silly and short synopsis of his non-Star Wars origami books, I am going to get a few others for my own boy to read.
And then, that other author from my childhood: Mary Downing Hahn.  Wait Till Helen Comes is one of the other staples from my earlier years, it was perfectly spooky, I read this one multiple times too.   What I of course did not know in my childhood is that Mary Downing Hahn LIVES IN MY TOWN.  Like, I could run into her at the Target.  During her talk she told about the settings of several different books (Wait Till Helen Comes is inspired by a converted church that's a few miles from where I live).  She talked about how afraid she was as a child but that somehow translated into loving mysteries and ghost stories.  Sheely sat on the grass at her feet, riveted.

She did a question and answer session at the end.  Who was the second question asker?  My daughter Sheely!!  I was so pleasantly surprised by what she asked!  Backstory: for reading this year, Sheely had to do a big poster project on a book and she chose Closed for the Season.  I decided to read it along with her so I could help and because I like to read :)  One of the major settings in the book is this old run-down and creepy abandoned amusement park.  I knew, by this point, that she lived nearby and I guessed that she based it on the Enchanted Forest, an old amusement park about 15 minutes from my house. 

So, Sheely asked if she based that amusement park on anything - and I was right!  She DID base it on the Enchanted Forest - she used to go there when her daughters were young!  Kinda love that. 
When she was finished speaking, Sheely waited in line to get a book signed (waited patiently for a LONG time - she was number 49 :) and have a chat with this most admired author.  Again, such a kind and friendly woman.  I love events like this that remind me that authors are PEOPLE - people with lives beyond the words they write.
While I waited for Sheely, I watched the last author speak: Marc Tyler Nobleman.  I had never heard of him but now, after hearing what he had to say, I am totally intrigued.  He has written a ton of books but the two he talked about (again, wish Xavey had been there), were about the men who created two different superheros: Superman and Batman.  Turns out, in both cases, the true creators of these iconic figures did NOT receive the recognition in life that they deserve and these biographical narrative books tell the true story that Nobelman discovered during his research.  

And then it was really time to go home, after more than three hours :)  I was never once uncomfortable in the weather.  We saw friends (TWO of Sheely's friends from different schools were there) and even Sheely's reading teacher :)  

My greatest hope is that they do this again next year!

3 comments:

bermudaonion said...

What fun! I can see the joy in your face in your picture with Katherine Paterson!

Mitchell Family said...

What a fun day! Max likes origami yoda and Darth paper! He isn't 9 yet...so we have put it away for a little bit. Now he loves the Nate the Great series. My boy loves books. Congrats on the babies!! So excited for you guys!

Melissa said...

Wow! That is just TOO cool. I'd love to meet Katherine Patterson. *jealous*

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