Life Lessons While Visiting Authors with My Daughter by Laura Wagenman
Four hundred six…That’s the number of books we’ve squeezed into my 7 year old’s bedroom. As a former first and second grade teacher, she inherited many of these from my classroom but many more were carefully chosen by her. She’s been a reader as long as I can remember likely since her first book, Love You Through and Through when she was able to read along with me at the age of 2.
Last spring my daughter’s reading life took a pivotal turn when my friend, Sandy Otto, invited us to listen to Kwame Alexander at the University of MN. She sat mesmerized for over an hour listening to his voice sing the words in Booked and tell stories about his own life. She already owned his book, Surf’s Up, but meeting him face to face made the book come to life. We bought Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band and waited in line to have him sign it. When it was her turn, Kwame remembered her and mentioned how she was a great audience member and I could feel her puff up with pride. Once home she requested we listen to jazz music because that was his favorite and read his books over and over. She bragged to whoever would listen that she met a real author and showed them her signed book. When someone would ask about our experience, she was incredulous that anyone would not know THE Kwame Alexander.
The following month we headed to St. Kate’s to meet Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson. She sat in awe listening to the stories of the book’s creation and marveled at Christian’s illustrations. When she met both, she excitedly shared how much she loved the book. She clutched the book tightly, eager to share with her teacher and classmates the next day. On the way home, she asked who would be the next author we would meet. “Author’s make you smile, Mom, and I love hanging out with you and Mrs. Otto.”
It was at the same time, that she asked for a journal. She began to write all of the time. A journal found its way into the car, the kitchen table, and in her backpack. She asked for old notebooks and a new journal topped her birthday list. When I asked about her writing she said, “if you can’t find the book you want to read, you need to make it yourself.” Stories of fantasy filled the pages as her imagination grew.
About a month later, we stumbled upon meeting Amy Young, author of A Unicorn Named Sparkle, at the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul. After Amy read from her book and illustrated her favorite scenes, “how can she be an author and illustrator?”, my daughter couldn’t wait to say hello. She later told me she loved how the character used her imagination, didn’t care what others thought, and had a kind heart. She too wanted to be like that.
On our most recent author adventure, my daughter got dressed up to meet Shannon Hale, author of Princess in Black. She listened intently to the story of why Shannon chose the character she did, wanting a strong female superhero. After, she could barely contain her excitement when we picked up two books from the series. As we drove home, I asked what was her favorite part. “The Princess in Black is hardcore like we are, Mom. Her story was magical, I felt like I was in a trance.” In my heart, I was so thankful my strong-willed, independent daughter had someone to look up to.
We haven’t visited an author in a couple months but my daughter is reading several different series and got many more books for Christmas as her wishlist continues to grow. We are eagerly awaiting to meet our next author because to us, that is an experience we treasure. When I asked why she liked going on these author visits, her face lit up describing how authors “transport you to another world. One minute you’re next to a fish in Sea World, the next you’re finding magic.” As a mom and avid reader, I love that my daughter is finding herself in books, that she is seeing the author’s heart in the story. These author visits are opening her up to possibilities, new experiences, and the true spirit of childhood. Because in our world, authors change the world, one child at a time.
Laura Wagenman is in her first year as a Staff Development Assessment Specialist. Prior to that, she taught first and second graders in Southern California and fifth and sixth graders in a suburb of Minneapolis. Laura is an avid reader who hopes to continue to cultivate the love of reading in her daughter. She is also passionate about infusing reading into mathematics. You can find her on Twitter, @laura_wagenman.