What Makes A Good School Visit Tick?

My dad -- he of the military bearing and the strict demeanor -- had a sense of southern-boy humor and a streak of the deliciously funny, too, and could dead-pan like nobody's business. Now and then, he would put a scarf over his head, hold it under his chin and give us the most pathetic look and say, "Ah been sick."

It cracked us up. Today I know it was a riff on an old cartoon (and, truth to tell, he reminded me (purposely, I think) of the old aunts who said that very thing, and often), but at the time, it was totally original to me.

Well.... ah been sick. I have no scarf, but I do look pathetic. I've been hacking my brains out and my voice is gone, and I travel tomorrow to the D.C. area, where I work for six straight days doing a variety of things. Help!

I've been babying my voice since Thursday, when it disappeared, and it's back a bit. I've tried lozenges and Throat Coat tea and steam inhalations, and long hot baths, and more. I've got it up to a crackle, and you can understand me, but I can't lose it again.

This week is the first leg of the Aurora County Shoestring Tour. I'm taking travel already scheduled and folding in, with Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt's help, bookstores and other events to celebrate the paperback publication of The Aurora County All-Stars, and the availability now of all three Aurora County novels in paperback.

I've researched how to take care of my voice (again; this is a perennial problem for me when I do too much speaking in a day or a week). I've spent days not talking. Much. I'm coaxing back my voice, and I'm slowly coming back to a healthy place, although my energy level is low. It will be fine by the time I step in front of students, because I'll make it so.

Here's my schedule for this coming week. If you are in the D.C. area, come see me at Politics & Prose on Thursday, April 2, at 10:30, or at Dancing Bear Toys and Books in Frederick, MD on Friday, April 3 at 7pm. I'd love to clap eyes on you. And I promise I'm not contagious.

The photos today are from schools I visited this past two weeks. I'd love to do a full post on each visit -- each was special in its own special way, as schools always are. For now, just know how much I appreciated your enthusiasm and hard work in bringing an author to your school, and how much fun I had... even if I carried home a little something to keep me company at the end of the week. It's a job hazard, now and then.

If you look carefully, you will see students finger writing, writing in notebooks, answering and asking questions, making connections, extending the lesson, and you will see teachers doing the same thing, modeling for their students, collaborating with the media specialist who initiated the contact with me (usually it's the media specialist) and creating a memorable day for their students.

Thanks so much to everyone at Barrow Elementary School in Athens, Georgia for making me feel so welcome -- thank you, media specialist Andy Plemmons for all that hard work -- we did work hard! -- and thank you teachers for the collaboration, and a special thank you to principal Tad MacMillan and assistant principal Ellen Sabatini, who not only attended all sessions, but enthusiastically okayed a teacher writing workshop after school and made themselves a part of that as well. It was an awesome learning day for all of us.

Thanks to students and teachers at R.D. Head Elementary in Lilburn, Georgia -- what a reception! Thanks to PTA cultural arts chair Laura Green for asking her teachers what they wanted, and for listening when they said, "We want Deborah Wiles to come teach our students about writing." When Laura called me, she said, "I didn't think of this as cultural arts... but it is, isn't it?" Yes ma'am, it is. Laura thought outside the box, and she made it happen -- and teachers ran with this and prepared their children so well, they sometimes knew my books better than I did. What a rush. What learning we can do, when we are all prepared. What teaching takes place! It was phenomenal.

Thank you to Nancy Ergle at Davis Elementary in Marietta, Georgia (awesome students!), and to Kathy Schmidt at Rock Springs Elementary in Lawrenceville, GA -- Kathy and I started setting up a school visit long months ago, before Coleen Salley died, when we met at the Decatur Book Festival, but we are connected through Coleen, who came to visit me last May, just before she went to Kathy's school for a visit. Kathy and I stayed in touch through Coleen's brief illness and death, and it was a bittersweet meeting last week -- so good to see one another again, so good to talk about Coleen's visit to Rock Springs, and so sad at the same time, as Rock Springs was Coleen's last school visit.

There are so many ways in which we are connected, and so many stories we have to share.

I'll start a separate post for the schedule. It's part of the Shoestring Tour, and I want to do it justice. First, another cup of Throat Coat. Ah been sick....