midland's battle, and mine

This was the scene on Saturday morning in Midland, Michigan, where I spoke to 500 fourth and fifth graders and their parents, in two sessions, for their annual Battle of the Books kickoff, sponsored by the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library. To say I was floored is an understatement.
I mean, we're talking Saturday morning (and afternoon) on a sunny, balmy Michigan November day full of basketball games and family obligations. These families came to the library.

This is the 31st year the library has sponsored Battle of the Books. Fourth and fifth graders wait eagerly for this November Saturday every year, when an author kicks off the Battle and the 20 books are revealed. Then, 60 or so teams are formed and the battle begins! The whole process ends in March after much reading, many rounds of written and then oral questions, a whittling down of the teams amidst intensified cheerleading, and then finally a winning team is declared. Here's how it works.
RUBY was on the Battle list last year. ALL-STARS is on the list this year. I came to Midland to spend a day in this community that values literacy so much it funds this program year after year and promotes it in such a way that kids wait in anticipation each fall, to take part. It took my breath away, as did the children's department in this library. Likewise the youth services staff. What dedicated, smart, warm, funny human beings!

That's Stephanie Williams, director of youth services, on the left, moi pretending to be a librarian for a day, Char and Monica -- we're missing several others including Vicki, Katrina, and Kathy. When I walked through the enormous children's section of their library, I felt like I'd gone back to the sixties, when money for libraries flowed, and books (and literacy) were valued as essentials to a balanced, fulfilling life.

It was hard to say goodbye. When I got to the Flint airport, Sarah Miller was waiting for me in her orange pants and super sweater. We took silly photos of ourselves sitting together at a corner table of a cafe near the security gate, me exhausted after a long day's work, and she full of the same fizz she infuses Annie Sullivan with in her novel Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller. I bought coffee and she brought cookies. They were good.
Sarah's finishing a new novel, OTMA: Daughters of the Czar, about the daughters of the Russian royal family. I find this history fascinating and can't wait to read Sarah's book (we'll have to wait until 2011, but it will be worth it).

I'm blathering. Shiny-tired, but happy. I zip off today to D.C., where I'll be working in schools and catching up with family and friends. After seven months home, this is a welcome week of travel, and the only week of travel until February, when my road-warrior self will be completely ready for the tarmac again.

I've written some catch-you-up notes and will send them along tomorrow. Lots is brewing on the Sixties Trilogy front. I seem to be battling myself, coming and going, not to mention significant developments beyond my control. Here's a hint of what's coming next, lifted from John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire:

"You've got to get obsessed and stay obsessed. And keep passing the open windows."

See me (and Scholastic) walk right past those open windows. No jumping here, but maybe some hair pulling... okay, a lot of hair pulling. Stay tuned.


  1. Oh, two of my favorite people - you and Geek Girl Sarah. Wish I had been there, too.

  2. We do, too! We spoke of you lovingly -- did you feel it? :>


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