That Gasp of Recognition by Anna Staniszewski
The first time I ever did a school visit, I was beyond nervous. My debut novel had just been published, and I wasn’t sure if I had anything to say that would be interesting to young readers. As I was preparing for my visit, someone told me that students love seeing pictures of authors as kids, so I started there.
I showed the students a picture of myself in pre-school, dressed from head to toe as a Gypsy princess. My costume was inspired by a collection of Polish Gypsy folktales that I made my parents read to me, over and over, when I was young. It was my dream to grow up to be a Gypsy princess, which, at the time, I thought was a real job you could have. I confided to the students that maybe that’s why my first book was rooted in folklore; if I couldn’t live in fairy tales, at least I could write about them.
To my delight, I got some smiles and giggles from the audience when I showed them the picture. I was encouraged, but I still wasn’t sure that I was connecting with them. It wasn’t until I showed covers of my favorite books from when I was young that the students’ eyes lit up.
The minute those book covers went on the screen (A Little Princess, A Wrinkle in Time, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM), there were gasps of recognition in the crowd. Even though my audience was a couple decades younger than I was, in that moment, we had something in common. We loved the same books.
After that, I relaxed and started to enjoy my presentation. I didn’t need to worry about connecting to my audience because those amazing books had already done it for me.
From there, I told the students about my writing path, about the terrible stories I wrote when I was their age, and about my journey to being published. I tried to give them a glimpse of the realities of being an author, including rejections and endless revisions, but I also tried to encourage them to never give up on their writing dreams. Essentially, I gave them all the advice that I wish someone had given me when I was younger.
At the end of my visit, after we’d done some fairy tale Mad Libs and wrapped things with an origami jumping frog competition, I was overwhelmed by how many students came up to me, not just to have books (or hands…or sweaters!) signed, but just to talk to me. Some of them told me about their favorite books, while others quietly confessed that they were also writers and hoped to be published one day.
I left the school with an enormous grin on my face. I couldn’t believe how well it had gone. The more I thought about the visit, the more I realized that it all went back to that moment when I showed the students the books that I had loved when I was their age. Those titles gave us a common language. They proved to the students that I was like them and vice versa.
As I continue to write books, I don’t really dream of riches and fame–at least, not most of the time. Instead, I dream about someone seeing my book and gasping in recognition, of people connecting over the words that I put on the page. The more schools I visit, the more I realize that we readers have our own way of communicating. The fact that my books are even part of that conversation is incredible. In some ways, it makes my childhood fairy tale aspirations feel like they’ve come true.
Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Look for the first book in Anna’s next tween series, The Dirt Diary, in January 2014, and visit her at http://www.annastan.com.