We had an author visit last week. Mac Barnett, author of many books and illustrator of a few pages in Chloe and the Lion, flew in all the way from California to speak to my students. It was awesome and for the most part, a very successful author visit. (I’ll tell you about the unsuccessful part in a moment). Mac Loves kids. They love him. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told these past few days that if Mac ever quits writing books, he can just be a stand up comedian.
(Thanks to Nick Watson for that picture.)
Pretty much everything happened that you want to happen at an author visit. The kids were entertained, informed and inspired. I had one kid tell me Friday that he started writing stories earlier than Mac did, so he has a head start. And of course, it will be weeks before you’ll be able to find a Mac Barnett b0ok in my library.
The part of the visit that was NOT successful however, was the whole me extracting the secret of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole thing out of Mac. Before the visit, I wasn’t sure that there was a definite answer to the question. I knew that it was possible that Mac and Jon Klassen, the illustrator, intentionally left clues to try to confuse the reader, and that the answer was that there wasn’t an answer and that it was up to the reader. I didn’t really think that was the case, though. I felt like there was an answer, and I was certain I was going to get it out of Mac.
I’d like to think I waited a decent amount of time before attacking him with the question, but I’m pretty sure it happened within the first five minutes of my meeting him. He just laughed, and told me in the nicest possible way that he wasn’t going to tell me. The way he answered let me know, though, that it wasn’t just up to the reader. He knew the answer, and he was keeping it secret. That did nothing but motivate me further. I thought that maybe if a student asked him, a sweet, innocent little kid, then maybe he’d be more forthcoming, and I knew that my students would ask, because they’d been asking me all year. So, I sat back and waited for one of my students to pop the question.
The first presentation was k3 through first grade. I was disappointed that not ONE student asked him about Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. I think they were just star struck. They asked some good questions, but not the one I needed them to. It’s was ok, though. Either, one of them would ask him one on one as he was signing their books, or the older kids would ask in their presentations, later.
Well, the signing went by and none of the younger kids brought it up.
Finally, during the question and answer segment of the 2nd- 3rd grade presentation, a student asked about it. “What really happened at the end of Sam and Dave Dig a Hole?” I sat up to listen and was amazed at Mac’s ability to dodge a question. Let me tell you guys something. Mac Barnett is an escape artist. He’s one of those people who can not answer a question at all and still make you feel like you got a satisfactory answer. My students say he could have been a stand up comedian, I say he’s a born politician.
My favorite Mac quote of the day came from the non-answer to that question. (I could be paraphrasing here.) “Some books tell you everything you need to know about the story, but I like books that really make you think.” He also let a big bomb drop. He said that he and Jon definitely had an ending in mind that they were shooting for, and that they left clues throughout the book to help the reader figure it out. A kid asked if the ending was a dream, and to me at least, Mac refuted this. He said, “Look at the dog’s eyes. Always look at the eyes in Jon Klassen books. The dog never goes to sleep.” To me, while it may not completely refute the dream theory, it at least tells me that Mac doesn’t think they were dreaming.
Later over lunch, and even later at dinner, I hounded Mac some more about Sam and Dave. (Poor Mac. Can you imagine spending a while day answering the same question over and over again? Well, actually I have a four year old, so yeah. I can. But poor Mac!) We talked about other books too, but I didn’t give up. I knew that if Mac got back on that plane to California, and I didn’t have an answer, I probably never would have one.
Then, over dinner Mac casually mentioned that even his editor didn’t know. I pumped the brakes on the conversation.
Me: “Hold on… Even your editor doesn’t know?”
Mac (laughing): nope.
Me: So how many people actually do know?
Mac: Just two.
Me: You and Klassen?
Mac: Yep. Only me and Jon.
I was defeated. I knew at that point that I was never going to get an answer,and I allowed the conversation to drift to other topics. It wasn’t a total loss, though. At least I was able to find out that 1. There is a definite answer. 2. There are clues in the book that can lead us to that answer. (it will take a wiser mind and a closer observer than me to find it.) and 3. I think we can safely rule out the dream theory. Mac also said at one point during the day that they obviously weren’t falling through the middle of the earth since they ended up in the sky, so the Digging through the World theory is out the window too. I never really subscribed to that theory, but it’s good to cross it off the list.
Anyways, despite my personal failure to extract the secret from Mac, the visit was a resounding success. I’ll leave you with a few of the welcome posters the 4th and 5th graders made.