December 17

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Mostly Can’t Shut Up by Christina Uss

Years ago, I volunteered to chop vegetables in the kitchen of the Kripalu Center for Yoga in the Berkshires of Massachusetts in return for all the yoga classes I could stand. This struck me as a pretty good deal. The best bit, though, was the badge I got to wear. “In Loving Silence,” it said. Those three words communicated in a polite a yoga-center script: This lady thinks you are terrific, but she isn’t going to talk to you and requests that you do not talk to her. I got to go about my life in silence, doing nothing more than chopping, smiling, and lying in Corpse Pose for days. It was heaven.

Perhaps knowing this helps readers of The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle understand why I created a place called the Mostly Silent Monastery as my main character’s home. It doesn’t explain, however, how I’ve become an author who finds herself In Loving Can’t-Shut-Up-Ishness so often since her book debuted.

When I dreamed of having a book published, I thought I’d be enormously well suited to a mostly silent author’s life. I’d be alone for hours, able to put up serious “Do Not Disturb” signs on my office door to ward of well-meaning friends and family who wanted to chat.

Then I experienced my first school visit. I’d nervously pitched an author visit plus a bike-to-school day to the PTO of an upper elementary school in my town. We ended up with over seventy kids, parents, teachers, administrators, and town police officers all riding a mile to school on a gorgeous June morning. The river of happy kids on wheels stopping traffic in all directions brought one crossing guard to tears. “It’s beautiful, a community coming together like this,” she told me, grabbing my hand. I agreed, and couldn’t shut up for the rest of the day about what a great morning it had been.

I booked another bike-to-school author visit. And another. Then library visits. Bookstore visits. And at each one, I had no time for silence, Loving or otherwise. The kids and I had so much to share about reading, and writing, and riding.

I’m so grateful to be wrong about authorhood taking place in some Silo of Silence. Being a kidlit author clearly involves joining and communicating with so many lively communities, from individual schools through huge literacy-supporting organizations like ALA, NCTE, and SCBWI. I hope to someday attend a nErDcamp so I can fail to shut up about my deep admiration for all you Nerdy folks do to encourage a love of reading.

At my most recent bike-to-school event, I stayed close to a 4th-grade boy struggling under an unwieldy backpack. He kept having to stop and catch himself when his feet slipped off the pedals. But he always remounted and pushed off again for another few pedal strokes, determined not to give up.

“Have you ever ridden to school before?” I asked him when he was re-establishing his balance.

“I’ve never ridden anywhere before,” he said. “I didn’t know I could do this.”

“I didn’t know I could do this either,” I said happily. “Let’s do it together.”

Christina Uss is the author of the middle-grade novel The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle and is constantly amazed at how much fun it is to be an author. She lives in Western Massachusetts with a lot of books, bikes, and library cards. You can reach her at  www.christinauss.com or @christinauss.