Nerdy Book Club: The Threads that Connect Us by Jennifer Shettel and Emily Meixner
This is the story of how two complete strangers became friends, all because of the Nerdy Book Club.
Jen: “For the past ten years, I have been teaching college courses on children’s and young adult literature.” As soon as I read the opening line of Emily Meixner’s April 12, 2014 Nerdy Book Club post, I knew I had to contact her. I was gearing up to teach my first children’s lit course the following fall and I was simultaneously excited and terrified. For some reason, Emily sounded like someone I really wanted to meet, so I read the entire post and then set about tracking her down based on the mini bio she left at the bottom of the post.
Emily: I’m suspicious of online dating — probably a good thing, since I already have a significant other. Even if this weren’t the case, I have a hard time imagining that after a few brief email exchanges, I’d drive an hour from my house to an unknown restaurant and have lunch with a total stranger…and yet. Apparently when it comes to talking about children’s and YA books, all bets are off. I WILL, in fact, drive an hour to have lunch with a total stranger. So, when Jennifer Shettel emailed me after reading my (first!) Nerdy Blog Post asking to share syllabi and then proposed a “road trip” to talk books face-to-face over lunch, I immediately checked my calendar and we scheduled our first official “date.”
To be honest, I hadn’t done any recon on Jen at that point. I just thought her email was so nice and genuine and enthusiastic that it might be fun to talk to her. It wasn’t until after we met, had lunch, and discovered we had LOTS to talk about, that I looked up her academic profile and read her own Nerdy posts. Common sense isn’t my middle name.
Jen: Yeah, it wasn’t until I was actually driving to our meeting spot (found by typing in both of our addresses on http://www.whatshalfway.com and picking a restaurant – cool tool!) that it occurred to me that randomly contacting strangers on the Internet and arranging a spot to meet them without letting anyone know where you are is probably not what we call “internet safety” (KIDS! DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!!). So I fired off a quick text to my husband that I was driving “somewhere kind of close to Philly” to meet a new friend for lunch. When Emily pulled in to the parking lot, I knew right away that it was her! Honestly, it was like we were sisters separated at birth.
Emily: While we were having lunch, Jen mentioned that she directs a Summer Reading Institute at Millersville University and asked if I would be interested in giving one of the keynotes. I was flattered and couldn’t believe my luck! A nice person, a great lunch, lots of book sharing AND an opportunity to spend a summer morning talking with teachers about how to build a culture of reading in their schools? I felt like I’d hit the new friend-new colleague jackpot.
Jen: Just a warning here – if you live anywhere even remotely close to me, I might ask you to speak at my Institute as well. Some of you Nerdy readers already know this from first-hand experience…. just saying.
What we also talked about at lunch was the children’s and YA lit course that Emily teaches at TCNJ. She very generously shared her syllabus and several assignment ideas with me. She helped me think through my vision for teaching the course and offered excellent insight and suggestions. Needless to say, I took a lot of notes and left with tons of ideas bouncing around in my brain.
Emily: Me, too! I left our lunch and immediately checked out several books Jen had recommended. And, I started getting excited about my summer trip to Millersville. Jen’s Institute is an amazing experience for teachers: one week of committed and intense exploration of literacy issues, a series of engaging speakers, and an opportunity to put together curricular materials that are immediately applicable to their K-12 contexts. All of the teachers I met that morning were smart, lively, and invested in our conversation. And the food! I really can’t say enough about the cheezy mashed potatoes. It was a terrific second date.
Jen: Emily’s presentation on Building Communities of Readers was outstanding! She was a “fan favorite” and so I asked her back last summer and for this summer as well! Last year her presentation on Close Reading with Graphic Novels inspired so many teachers to try using this text type in their classrooms! I’m still getting emails from participants about the books they are using and how much their students love them!
Emily: (Yay!) Even though we were still getting to know each other, I felt it might be time to take our developing friendship to the next level: NCTE (the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English). Jen had mentioned she was going to ALAN (the GREAT workshop run by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) and was contemplating attending NCTE as well. I had already registered for NCTE and CEL (the Conference on English Leadership). Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought, to hang out with Jen, eat more good food, and talk about books and teaching together? And so I asked her to be my NCTE roommate. And she accepted!
Jen: As a parent of two teenagers, I don’t endorse sleeping together after two dates – LOL!. But seriously, I’m SO GLAD we roomed together! Again, it’s like we’ve known each other forever. We laughed and chatted and compared conference notes at the end of each day. And of course there was no arguing over which television channel to watch because we were TOO BUSY READING!!
Emily: Since NCTE, we’ve continued to collaborate. Last summer, Jen again asked me to present at the Millersville Reading Institute, this fall we submitted a proposal together to present at ILA (International Literacy Association), and now…we’re writing TOGETHER for Nerdy Book Club!
When I decided to write for Nerdy, I just wanted to be a part of the conversation. It never occurred to me that the benefits of the group would extend beyond my computer screen and into my personal and professional life. How wrong I was, and how lucky I am that Jen reached out to me. Who knows what we’ll do next!
Jen: I’m so grateful for this community of readers. I feel like I’ve made many real friends through the conversations that occur here and on Facebook and Twitter as well. The Nerdy Book Club community pays it forward every day by weaving the invisible threads of literacy that connect people in ways that are not bound by distance or location. We’d love to hear YOUR stories of how you met your Nerdy bestie or how this blog has allowed you to connect with other like-minded friends.
To see the story of The Email That Started It All, click here! https://goo.gl/CRxx19
Jennifer Shettel is an associate professor of literacy at Millersville University of PA where she works with pre-service teachers and graduate students on “all thing reading.” Follow her on Twitter @readndr or read her book reviews and recommendations on Goodreads!
Emily Meixner is an associate professor of English at The College of New Jersey in Ewing, NJ, where she teaches courses on secondary ELA pedagogy and young adult literature. You can follow her and hear more about what’s she’s reading and teaching on Twitter @EsMteach.