I have been to hundreds of author events in my (un-?, non-?, semi-?) illustrious book world career. But Thursday night, May 24, 2012 was the most memorable. The event did not take place in one of the local independent bookstores. And it did not take place in an overflowing auditorium for a world-famous author (Jodi Picoult, George R.R. Martin). Where was it, you ask? I'll tell you. It was at my 7-year old granddaughter's school. It wasn't even in the school auditorium. It was in her classroom, and Haley sat at her desk during the entire event.
When we got our invitation to attend Author's Night from Haley's parents, we, of course, said yes. After all, Haley is our granddaughter. We all remember the seemingly millions of school, dance, choir, and sporting events that we attended for our kids, our relatives' kids, and our friends' kids. Many were decent. And many weren't. Didn't matter. It's how we support each other. I expected this to be in the same category. I didn't care if it was any good. I'll go anywhere my grandkids go.
To say my expectations were exceeded is to say that I love my wife and kids. Both are true but don't adequately express the emotion and sentiment behind the statements. I was flat-out blown away. The evening began with the teacher addressing the room of students and family members. First of all, the teacher is someone who's been around awhile (although still way younger than me!). She is a teacher that all of us, even today, would want if we were in school. She has that combination of look, voice, and demeanor that lets you know she is a fantastic teacher. But I digress. So she explains the genesis of tonight's event and how proud of her students she is. She tells us what is expected of us. We are to listen to our student read her book, and then we get to comment on the back page. Does she then release us to get started? She does not. She asks the kids what goes into a good story? Hands shoot up. One child says "lots of details." Another says "a first sentence that grabs you." A third says "good illustrations." This is when the "blown away" part began.
But how would we know what to write in the "comment" page? No sweat. The teacher has given all of the family members a flyer when they walked into the classroom. It's called "Welcome to Authors' Night!" Here's the kicker. On the page is a list of "Sample compliments" to guide us in our comments. There are 11 examples. Here are a few of them:
"Your story is filled with details."
"Your story made me feel...(happy, silly, sad, mad, excited)."
"I like how you ended your story with a feeling."
"I especially like the sentence ___________ because...)."
Are you kidding me? I thought, "These are first graders! Shouldn't they just be happy to know the alphabet?" Well, let me tell you what happened when the reading began. Haley's parents, brother, and 4 grandparents all stood around her while she read her book. Even today I can't write as well as Haley does and never could. The story had all of the elements that the teacher had spoken and written about. It was fantastic. I had the biggest s___-kickin' grin during the entire reading. When she was done, I wrote my comment, kissed Haley, and went looking for another student to read her story. My next book was written by Haley's friend, Taylor. Guess what? I had the same big smile on my face all through her reading. And then again with a boy I had never seen before. We finally left, but I was as fulfilled from an author's event as I could ever imagine. Haley's other grandparents, Roseann and Jake, and Joni and I went out for dinner immediately after. It was all we could talk about.
I just hope that all future author events are not ruined by what I experienced Thursday night! Kudos to the teacher and students for putting on a remarkable demonstration of what reading (and writing) is all about. As an avid reader and almost equally avid blogger, I couldn't have been prouder to be part of an event that exemplified all that's good about book world.