Authors are the Real Rockstars by Phyllis Sutton
Rockstars. Yes, Rockstars. I’ve seen them change the way we look at our world.
My students and I hold authors dear to our hearts. We speak of Jacqueline Woodson as a friend, “Do you remember what Jacqueline Woodson wrote in Each Kindness?” “What do you think Jacqueline Woodson wants you to learn from reading Brown Girl Dreaming?” Her name floats through our class during reading and writing workshops. Faith, after reading Come Softly to Me, wrote of her indignation in how people are judged by their color or where they live. “Is that what you think Jacqueline Woodson wanted you to feel after reading her book? What can you change in your own world?”
I still remember the first time I read Junkyard Wonders to my students. The look on their faces when they learned that the main character in the story was Patricia Polacco was breathtaking. Her books are our mentor texts–Junkyard Wonders, Thank you, Mr. Falker, Mr. Lincoln’s Way–the list just goes on. Patricia Polacco wasn’t always a great reader and writer? For those students that struggle with reading and writing, she is a beacon of hope.
This past year, we read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s One for the Murphys during Global Read Aloud. There was a long waiting list of students wanting to read my ARC copy of Fish in a Tree. So many that, even after purchasing additional copies when it was released, we never got through the entire list by the end of the school year. Students were hungry for her books!
Lynda Mullaly Hunt. We always address her with her full name, just as we always call Jacqueline Woodson, Jacqueline, and Patricia Polacco, Patricia. No Lynda, Jackie or Pat for us! Their full name is spoken with reverence and respect.
Last week, in the middle of summer, several students–along with their parents, my principal and me–went to hear Lynda Mullaly Hunt speak on a panel of nine authors. Our excitement equaled that of someone meeting Patrick Sharpe after the Blackhawks took their third Stanley cup. We were pumped!
Lynda walked into the space. I introduced myself to her and was greeted with a hug! She came over and met my students, their parents, and my principal and his son. She listened–really listened–to them. They were BEAMING!
I had a special child with me–my own “Carly”–a girl that lived with my family for three years before returning to live with her mother. After no contact for two years, she is back in my life and spending the summer with us. I like to think One for the Murphys Carly got in touch with Julie Murphy eventually. I know how Julie would feel when that happened.
Alexis (my Carly) does not call herself a reader. She calls my husband, daughter and me book nerds (as if that is a bad thing!). But during the authors’ presentations, something changed. She listened, really listened. And Lynda’s message spoke to her, to her heart. She felt a flicker of hope for herself and her future. After the presentation, Alexis asked Lynda a question. “Why do you put part of yourself into your writing?” Lynda looked at Alexis thoughtfully and answered directly to Alexis. Looked her in the eyes. When Alexis joined me for the book signing, Lynda gave her her own signed copy of One for the Murphys. Alexis started reading it immediately. Walking around the presentation space, with book in hand, Alexis read and read. She looked up and muttered, “Oh No! I am a book nerd!” She cradled the book, understanding the importance of what just happened.
My eyes shifted to my students–students who already love books. They came to the author panel to see Lynda Mullaly Hunt, each waiting to have their copy of Fish in a Tree signed. As the event progressed, I noticed each child’s pile of books grow. They each discovered one, two, even more new authors to call friends. Each author took the time to chat with each of them, to make that personal connection. They shared their stories of how writing can be hard and sometimes what you write the first time is not good but you keep at it, day after day. Their writing struggles were the same as our writing struggles.
Books change lives, without a doubt. They introduce us to people and ideas that we might never have experienced otherwise. And behind every book is an author. Authors are the rockstars. Authors change lives. I witnessed it again just last week!
Phyllis Sutton is a fifth grade teacher from Lisle, Illinois. She loves to read and hopes to have ample time this year as she and her husband, Rod, are soon-to-be empty nesters! Phyllis has just started to blog; read her wonderings and wanderings at http://suttonswonderings.blogspot.com/