Yesterday, Shelley Moore Thomas, author of the Good Night, Good Knight books and the middle grade novel The Seven Tales of Trinket visited our school. It was phe……wait for it….nomenal.
It all started sometime last February. I’m always trying to think ahead when it comes to author visits. Who can I get next year, what about the year after that? Authors are busy people, so it never hurts to book them way ahead of time. My favorite book of 2013 was The Seven Tales of Trinket. I loved the Irish folklore throughout the book, and I really felt like I could relate to Trinket. I loved the book so much that I added Shelley to the list of possible authors for our 2014 Spring visit.It didn’t take long for me to decide that Mrs. Thomas was the perfect fit. Her picture books are adorable and I knew the younger ages would love her. Her novel is terrific, so the older students would get a lot out of her talking about that. She’s a professional storyteller and knows how to captivate a crowd, and she’s a third grade teacher, so she knows how to speak to children. I sent her an email, and we booked a visit for sometime between April 7-11 (California’s Spring Break).
Throughout this school year, since the summer session really, I’ve been pumping the kids up, throwing the Good Night, Good Knight books into my story times (something I would have done anyways) and telling them they would be meeting the author in April. I’ve been selling Trinket to my 4th and 5th graders hard. A lot of the third graders have read it, too. The last few weeks especially, I’ve pushed her books extra hard, with good results.
Things got a little complicated last month when it came time to order books for the students to get signed during the visit. In my experience, I’ve found that it’s very rare for the authors to have copies of their own books on hand to sell and sign. That means that I have to send home an order form with the students featuring the author’s available books. A few days later, the parents send me the form back with the books they want selected along with the money to pay for them. Then I order the books through our local, independent bookstore. This is always the most difficult part about planning for an author visit, for me at least. During these weeks, there are always order forms and sheets with titles and tally marks strewn about my office. This time it was a little more difficult than usual. I got an email sometime in the middle of our Spring Break from the book seller letting me know that they had made a mistake. One of the books that they had told me was available actually wasn’t. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if we had known before hand. I just wouldn’t have put the title on the students’ order forms, but since I already had, and 35 students had ordered and paid for the the book, we had to figure something out. When we got back to school after the break, I sent a letter home with the 35 kids, giving them two options. They could replace the book with a similarly priced book or they could get a refund check. It was a major headache, but I finally heard back from the parents with mixed responses. (some wanted new books, some wanted a check) It finally all got sorted out right before the visit.
Last week, I had the 3rd and 4th graders (the 5th graders were at a nature camp all week) make welcome posters for the visit. They were all very excited and worked hard. Friday, after school, I hung the posters all over the library, and went to pick up the books from the local bookseller. Finally, everything was in place. Saint James was ready for Shelly Moore Thomas.
Monday morning arrived, and the weather was terrible. It was flooding all across the county, and there were tornado watches in nearby counties. I knew Mrs. Thomas was from California, and I didn’t know if she had ever experienced a tornado watch or warning, or rain for that matter. (I’m joking, of course) My mind immediately went to the worst case scenario. I pictured the tornado sirens going off during one of her presentations, and us all having to hunker down in the hallways for the rest of the day. Luckily, the severe weather passed and Shelley arrived at Saint James without any trouble. She didn’t seem bothered by the weather at all.
The day started out with a bang. We had 130ish 3-5 year olds crammed into the library, and Shelley brought the house down. There were literally rolling on the floor, laughing. They loved her puppets, her storytelling (She told a hilarious, interactive version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”) and her reading of Good Night, Good Knight. Afterwards, she signed tons of books for the students, and before we could catch or breath, the 1st and 2nd graders were filing in.
This session was similar to the first, but not really. Each one was unique for the age group. She still used her puppets, but instead of Goldilocks she told a very funny version of “Fin M’coul: The Giant of Knockmany Hill.” I usually read this story to the older kids, but not the 1st and 2nd graders, so they got to hear it for the first time from a much better storyteller than myself. She then read her book Take Care, Good Knight, took questions from the audience, and then allowed her herself to be mobbed by eager students wanting their books signed.
We took a break after that for lunch, and returned just in time for next session, a mixture of the third, fourth and 5th graders. For this session, Shelly shared some of her 2nd grade writing and artwork. talked about writing and finding inspiration, and then told a haunting version of “The Stolen Child”, an Irish tale about fairy kidnappers. She then talked about how she used folklore and mixed it into The Seven Tales of Trinket and still and made it her own. After thatm took questions and signed for the students.The mood for this session was different, a little more mature for older children, and they loved it as well.
The last session was for 4th and 5th graders, and one third grade class.It was much like the session before, but a little different. Shelley told “The Woman Who Flummoxed the Fairies” for this group. The students had all heard me read the book before, but you couldn’t tell at all. Shelley’s version was so unique and interactive, they all acted like they had never heard it before.
When the last session was over, and Saint James had to say goodbye to Shelly Moore Thomas, I sat down in the empty library. I knew that for me, the day was a huge success. Every single child seemed incredible happy. Usually, at this point, I breathe a sigh of relief, glad that the day is finished, but it wasn’t like that. I was sad to see it go. It had been so much fun, and I wish that every day could be like that.
We had a faculty meeting after school, the teachers all raved about Mrs. Thomas and how awesome she was. They all agreed that it was the best author visit they had ever witnessed, and I agree. I’ve met several authors, and heard them speak to children, but Shelley Moore Thomas did it like no one I’ve ever heard before. She’s a wonderful mixed concoction of author, storyteller, teacher, and avid reader, and she was exactly what I wanted for our students.